Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When Should a Child Start Seeing A Dermatologist to Check for Skin Cancer?

At what age should a child start seeing a dermatologist for full skin checks? 

I asked this question from my Twitter as well as on my Facebook page.  My kids are 11 years old now and about ready to make the transition from pediatricians to general practitioners and/or specialists, including dermatologists.  But is it too early to take the kids in for a full body check?

As I posed the question, my engineering logic was expecting a specific answer like “8” or “12.”  However, most answers were far more emotional than logical.  A large number of the respondents stated that they took their children to have their skin checked as soon as they themselves had been diagnosed with melanoma.  This stands to reason.  Even as an adult, I didn’t start visiting the dermatologist until my brother was diagnosed.  Many times, it takes a big ol’ slap from the black cancer upon a loved one to take notice.

But it’s not just that slap in the face.  Family history is one of the key uncontrollable risk factors toward a melanoma diagnosis.  Did you know that if two immediate family members (parent, child or sibling) have melanoma, you have a darned good (bad) chance of being diagnosed with it as well? [source]  So by all means, if there is any…ANY family history of melanoma, one should have their children checked.

Another criteria as to whether to have the kids checked is to perform the check yourself.  Examine your child for the same suspicious moles and spots that you would on an adult.  Use the ABCDE method and check for Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color difference or changes, Diameter greater than that of a pencil eraser, and Evolving or changing moles.  If any of these conditions exist on the child, see the dermatologist.

When I was a kid, I was covered in moles.  I still am.  I played in the sun and became a pool rat in my teens.  I’m probably lucky to have had only an actinic keratosis cut away from my body.  My kids have few if any moles.  They have grown up in a time (and in a family) when applying sunscreen is the norm.  Melanoma is extremely rare in kids under 12, but like a contact at the Melanoma Education Foundation told me, “there is always that first and rare case and I’d rather be a little over protective and overly cautious than be that 1 in a billion  statistic.”  I agree.

My children’s pediatrician has always been diligent about checking their skin along with everything else, so we’ve been very fortunate in that respect.  My kids have an appointment to see him again within the next couple months for their annual checkup.  At that time, I’ll ask him what he thinks is the best age to start seeing a dermatologist.  I suspect he’ll tell me the same as I learned from you.  If there is a family history, a suspicious spot, or excessive sun exposure, start taking your kids as soon as possible.  And make an appointment for yourself as well.  It’s never too early to have your kids checked…and it’s never too late to get yours checked.

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