Skin Cancer Prevention – All Year Long
As suntans fade and trips to the beach and pool become a distant memory, staying vigilant in protecting your children’s skin from harmful rays from the sun is still important. Children play outdoors in all seasons and sun exposure occurs throughout the entire year.
“In the fall and winter months, the sun reflects off any water, snow or ice, as in skiing,” says Elizabeth Fox, MD, head of developmental therapeutics in the division of oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Lisa Hochman, MD, dermatologist and spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, relays that nearly 90 percent of all malignant melanoma cases are related to the sun. Each year, 500 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with malignant melanoma and, she says, “That number seems to be rising about two percent a year.”
Of great concern is that those childhood sunburns can come back to haunt you as an adult. “Even one blistering sunburn in childhood can double your risk of getting melanoma,” Hochman adds. “You want to start early and you want your children to make prevention a part of their routine so it becomes as second nature as putting a seatbelt on.”
The best prevention
A baby younger than 6 months old should avoid sun exposure completely, as her thinner, sensitive skin cannot handle sunblock. Even though there are sunblocks labeled ‘Baby,’ it is best to keep infants in the shade with sun-protective clothing. Beyond 6 months, apply a broad-spectrum sunblock at a minimum 30 SPF that protects from both UVA and UVB rays to all exposed areas.
“Apply it per the directions on the label, but at least every two to four hours when outside, and after swimming or water activities, even if it says it’s waterproof,” says Fox. Other protections include tight weave clothing that is generally lightweight and long-sleeved, designed to reflect the sun’s rays; a three-inch brimmed hat that covers the top of the ears and back of the neck (as opposed to a baseball cap); and sunglasses.
“Sunglasses are important not only to protect the eyes, but also the sensitive skin around the eyes,” says Hochman.
Parents often don’t realize that window glass protects UVB rays but not UVA, which means you must also protect your child in the car with a UV shield. “That’s important for adults as well,” says Hochman. “We see a lot more skin cancers on the left side of the body which we assume is from years of sitting in a car on the driver’s side and getting additional sun through the car window.”
And never use a tanning bed, urges Fox — “That’s a very unnatural way to tan; the UVA and UVB exposure is very unhealthy.”
“When we think of adults with melanoma, we think of growing, very dark, highly pigmented lesions,” says Fox. “In children, that rule does not apply.”
Though the danger signs of melanoma for children differ somewhat from those for adults, there are easily memorable signs to watch out for. The most common are the ABCDE (and U) signs of melanoma in moles or new growths:
Asymmetry, meaning it’s thicker or darker on one side than the other;
Borders are irregular;
Color is varied — not just shades of brown but bluish, reddish or whitish within the mole;
Diameter – if the mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser;
Evolving – anything consistently itchy, scabbing, bleeding or crusting;
Ugly duckling, especially for a child with a lot of moles, is one that stands out because it’s different than the rest.
A community response
In an effort to encourage everyone to use sunblock, the Phillies, the City of Philadelphia, Phillies great Mike Schmidt and the RDK Melanoma Foundation are providing it free of charge. Sunblock dispensers are currently located in the courtyard of city hall, at Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive, plus an additional 12 dispensers located throughout Citizens Bank Park, with more planned for the future. According to Richard Mariano, building services administrator with the City of Philadelphia, all of the sunscreen dispensers at City Hall and at Lloyd Hall (Kelly Drive) will be removed at the end of October 2017 for the winter season and deployed again at the end of April 2018 to be used again next spring and summer (2018).
The sun safety awareness campaign includes an educational component “to get the word out about how to be sun safe and protect yourself from overexposure to the sun,” says Stacy Ostrau, executive director of the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation.
Until your kids are able to correctly apply sunscreen themselves, daycare center and school personnel must assume that responsibility. In PA, NJ and DE, the parent or guardian must provide written permission for the teacher or caregiver to apply sunscreen to the child and all label instructions must be followed.
Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.