How do I protect my children against skin cancer?

Sun damage at a young age is potentially the most dangerous, because the skin is thin and delicate and may burn more easily.  It is also the time when sunburn is most likely to result in freckling and mole formation, which are both markers for people at risk of future skin cancers.  In fact, a mole count over forearms is an indication of future melanoma risk, with high mole counts being associated with increased lifetime risk of melanoma.  Children need to be protected from sun damage and in particular sun burn with hats, sunglasses, protective clothing (shirts, rash vests), high potency sunscreens (50+ SPF recommended) and avoidance sun exposure in the hottest part of the day.  Every sunburn contributes to an increased risk of skin cancer in future and there may be a very long (decades) delay before the skin cancer appears.  Skin cancers occurring after a single sunburn has been documented, with a delay of 40 years between the sunburn and the eventual cancer formation. Regular sunscreen application for skin types susceptible to sun burn can prevent accidental sunburns, and lead to a reduced risk of future skin cancers.

Most children are at very low risk of skin cancers, so regular skin checks are not routinely recommended unless there are particular concerns.  While skin cancers including melanoma are rare, they do occur, so if there is a mole or spot that is changing or growing at an accelerated rate, or looks odd or different to every other mole on the child’s body, then they should be checked to ensure it is not a cancer.