Doctors diagnosing more kids with skin cancer

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September 8, 2012, 9:53 am
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(NECN/NBC News, Doreen Gentzler, Baltimore) – Most people don't associate skin cancer with kids, but now doctors are diagnosing more and more children with the condition.

They're finding it in teens and children as young as 10-years-old. We're talking everything from basal cell carcinoma to melanoma.

Doctors aren't sure why this is suddenly cropping up, but they believe genetics and ultra-violet light exposure are playing a big role.

Doreen Gentzler has more on this alarming trend.

"It's not something you think that you're going to be told that your 11-year-old has beginning stage melanoma,” said Melissa Cummins.

For Cummins,  the news that her son had skin cancer was a shock.

"I was sick,” she said. “I actually dropped down and couldn't talk on the phone."

While the Maryland family often spent time outdoors -- hunting, fishing and on the boat -- Cummins says she was vigilant about skin protection.

"They were not outside without hats, bonnets as babies, sunscreen always gets put on to the point that my boys fuss at me,"  Cummins said.

Doctors agree that skin cancer at such a young age is still uncommon, but the rates are increasing at an alarming rate.

Dr. Bernard Cohen, the director of pediatric dermatology at the John Hopkins Childrens Center in Baltimore, says 10 years ago he never saw skin cancer in a child, but now he's seeing a few cases a year.

"Commensurate with the adult skin cancer epidemic, children are not that far behind,” Cohen said. “Clearly, people are spending more time out in the sun and getting sun exposure and kids are getting a ton of sun exposure early in life."

Cohen says it's not just melanoma on the rise. He's seeing more incidents of less serious basal and squamous cell cancers as well. Doctors can't point to any definitive reasons for the increase,  but Cohen believes genetics and more exposure to ultaviolet light are definite factors.

"I think some of the problems in children under the age of 12 is that we don't understand what it means for them lifelong," Cohen said.

For example, the chance of recurrence after a melanoma can be as high as 50 percent.  But Cohen worries that in a child who has years and years left to live, that chance could be much higher.

That's why Melissa Cummins says she's constantly checking all of her childrens skin.

"People don't think kids are going to get skin cancer and it doesn't discriminate,” she said. “It doesn't matter how old you are and my only thing is to be aware of what's on your own body."

Dermatologists say that pediatricians should be doing skin checks as part of a child's over all check-up.

The earlier doctors can find skin cancer, the more successful the treatment.

Tags: kids , skin cancer, Johns Hopkins, Doreen Gentzler, ultra-violet light
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