Protecting children from the sun can help them to avoid melanoma, a type of skin cancer, researchers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Washington University have found.
Most people know that sun damage can cause melanoma in adults, but this was the first study to find genetic evidence that children are affected by the sun's ultraviolet rays the same way as adults, and thereby need to be protected from the sun in the same way.
This small study was featured in the March, 2015, issue of The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Researchers found that melanoma in children — the most common skin cancer diagnosed in children — has the same genetic alterations as it does when it is found in adults, unlike most cancers.
This is particularly groundbreaking research because it opens the door for medical professionals to start to use adult therapies to combat melanoma in children. If these therapies work for adults with melanoma, then they should potentially work for children, too.
This new information reinforces the need for parents and caregivers to protect children and adolescents from the sun, to prevent melanoma, and to continue that protection throughout their lives.
Using adequate sunscreen and limiting sun exposure can help to lower their chances of being diagnosed with melanoma.
According to the National Cancer Institute, while melanoma is still rare in children, its prevalence has increased between 1973 and 2009, primarily in teenagers between 15 and 19 years old.
The majority of current patients with pediatric melanoma are in that age group. In fact, patients with melanoma comprise 8 percent of all pediatric cancer patients between 15 and 19 years old.
NCI estimates that 425 U.S. children under the age of 19 are diagnosed with melanoma each year. In 75 percent of those patients, the cancer will not spread and 90 percent of them will survive five years after the diagnosis of their disease.
This study is part of the St. Jude—Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project which was created in 2010 to help children diagnosed with some of the least understood and most aggressive pediatric cancers.