Melanoma is a highly malignant skin cancer that begins in
melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin, which gives our skin its
color) of normal skin or moles and spreads rapidly and widely. It primarily
occurs in adults, but about 300 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with
melanoma each year. While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer in
adults, skin cancer in children is almost always melanoma.
Pediatric melanoma has increased on average 2% per year since
1973, although its incidence seems to have decreased over the last few years. The
biggest increase in recent decades has been in girls ages 15-19, possibly
because girls are more likely than boys to sunbathe and use tanning beds.
Among children and teenagers, melanoma often looks different and may grow
faster than it does in adults. Also, sun exposure plays less of a role in the
development of the disease in children. Kids with fair skin, freckles and
blonde or red hair are at higher risk of developing melanoma than other
Children with melanoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston
Children’s through our Rare Tumors Program. Our
treatment teams have expertise in treating many rare forms of cancer, and many
of our specialists are also active researchers, providing your child access to
the most advanced treatments available.
While melanomas in adults tend to turn darker, in children
they often are whitish, yellowish or pink. The most common symptoms of melanoma
As with adults, children are most at risk for melanoma if
Become familiar with your child's skin and the pattern of moles, freckles
and other marks on his or her body. Be alert to changes in the number, size,
shape and color of pigmented areas, as this can be a sign of
The same “ABCDE rule” used to
determine whether a doctor should check a mole in adults also applies to
children and teenagers. Just remember that in children and teens, color may be lighter instead of
Children at high risk should be seen by a
pediatric dermatologist annually. Also, remember that melanoma can occur in
places not exposed to the sun, so make sure your child’s scalp, feet, hands and
buttocks are also checked.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination,
melanoma is diagnosed with a biopsy of the lesion. It is important to have your
child’s biopsy reviewed by a pediatric team. Dermatologists and pathologists
used to seeing adult melanomas may not notice key signs of melanoma in
Low-stage melanoma is treated primarily with
observation. Other common treatments include:
Although treatment options for children are
similar to those used for adults, a pediatric center will know how to best
tailor treatment to the needs of children – and specialized programs like the
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Rare
Tumors Program have unique expertise and access to treatment
options that might not be available at other centers.
Precision Medicine and Immunotherapy for Melanoma
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s is at the
forefront of new research and clinical trials investigating the use of precision
medicine and immunotherapy to treat childhood and
adolescent melanoma. Precision medicine tailors treatment to the specific
genetic characteristics of the patient’s cancer – for example, selecting drugs
matched to the tumor profile. Immunotherapy for melanoma works by unleashing a
very brisk and sustained response of the immune system against melanoma cells.
our clinical trials for melanoma available at
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. If you have questions or need advice on whether a particular trial would be appropriate for your child, email our clinical trials team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help you navigate your options.
Children with melanoma typically fare better
than adults. The overall five-year survival rate for children and adolescents
with melanoma is 90 percent. About 60 percent of children whose disease has
spread to the lymph nodes are expected to survive long-term.
A significant number of recurrences and melanoma-related deaths have
been reported, so frequent medical checkups are important as children become
adults. Studies show that children who are treated for melanoma are at
increased risk for disease recurrence later in life.
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