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Researchers find higher childhood melanoma rates

Monday April 15, 2013
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The incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma increased by an average of 2% a year between 1973 and 2009, according to a study.

Kimberly J. Johnson, PhD, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, noted melanoma is rare in children ages 0 to 19, with 400 to 500 individuals diagnosed annually in the United States.

However, "similar to what we’re seeing in adults, rates have increased over the past several decades," Johnson said. "Although the exact reasons for this trend are unclear, parents should be vigilant about helping children and adolescents reduce their chance of developing melanoma by practicing sun-protective behaviors and avoiding tanning beds."

A large percentage of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs during childhood, the researchers noted. Children and adolescents spend more time outdoors, especially in the summer months, and may receive three times more UV rays than adults. In addition, an individual’s childhood UV exposure is a risk factor for melanoma later in life.

"The study will help put melanoma on the radar of pediatricians," Johnson said, adding that the "true impact of this research will be to increase awareness of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun and artificial tanning."

For the study, published April 15 on the website of the journal Pediatrics, the researchers examined Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results data from nine U.S. cancer registries. They found that girls, 15- to 19-year-olds, and individuals with low UV-B exposure had significantly higher melanoma incidence rates than boys, younger children and those living in SEER registries categorized as high UV-B.

The researchers posited that the increased availability of tanning facilities in areas with lower UV exposure could explain why adolescent melanoma incidence is increasing only in the low UV-B exposure group. Differences in indoor tanning practices could help explain why melanoma incidence is greater in girls than in boys.

In addition, the researchers said, "increased capture of melanoma cases by cancer registries" could be a factor in the overall childhood and adolescent incidence trends.

A PDF of the study is available at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/03/27/peds.2012-2520.


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