Skin cancer is a type of cancer that grows in the cells of the skin. It can spread to and damage nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Skin cancer is very rare in children.
Exposure to sunlight is the main factor for skin cancer. Skin cancer is more common in people with light skin, light-colored eyes, and blond or red hair. Other risk factors include:
There are 3 main types of skin cancer:
Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma appear on areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, face, neck, arms, and hands. The symptoms can include:
Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma appear on areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, face, neck, arms, and hands. They can also appear on other parts of the body, such as skin in the genital area. The symptoms can include:
Symptoms of melanoma include a change in a mole, or a new mole that has ABCDE traits such as:
Other symptoms of melanoma can include a mole that:
The healthcare provider will examine your child's skin. Tell the healthcare provider:
Tell the healthcare provider if your child has had skin cancer in the past, and if other your family members have had skin cancer.
Your child's healthcare provider will likely take a small piece of tissue (biopsy) from a mole or other skin mark that may look like cancer. The tissue is sent to a lab. A doctor called a pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope. He or she may do other tests to see if cancer cells are in the sample. The biopsy results will likely be ready in a few days or a week. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you the results. He or she will talk with you about other tests that may be needed if cancer is found.
Types of treatment for basal cell and squamous cell cancers include the following.
This is medicine applied as a cream or ointment onto the skin. It’s also called topical chemotherapy. This kind of medicine is only used if the cancer is just in the top layers of the skin. The medicine is applied several times a week for a few weeks.
This is treatment with high-energy X-rays. Electron beam radiation is often used for skin cancer. This type of radiation doesn’t go deeper than the skin. This helps limit side effects. The radiation damages the cancer cells and stops them from growing. Radiation therapy is a local therapy. This means that it affects the cancer cells only in the treated area.
This procedure removes the cancer and a small amount of normal tissue. It’s done on sensitive areas, such as the face. During Mohs surgery, your child is given a local anesthetic to numb the area being treated. The cancer is removed from the skin one layer at a time. Each layer is checked under a microscope for cancer. If cancer cells are seen, another layer of skin is removed. Layers are removed until the doctor doesn’t see any more cancer. The procedure may take several hours, depending on how many layers need to be removed. After this surgery, the cancer is fully removed and the wound can be repaired.
This procedure removes tissue and burns (cauterizes) the area. Your child is given a local anesthetic to numb the area. The doctor then uses a sharp spoon-shaped instrument called a curette to remove the cancer. This is called curettage. After curettage, the doctor passes an electric needle over the surface of the scraped area to stop bleeding, and destroy any other cancer cells. After it heals, a flat white scar may remain.
This is done to cut the cancer from the skin, along with some of the healthy tissue around it. Your child is given a local anesthetic. Then, the doctor uses a scalpel to remove the tumor from the skin. The doctor may also remove some of the normal skin around the tumor. This is called a margin. Stitches or a bandage strip may be used to close the wound. The tissue that was removed is sent to a lab for testing. If the report shows that not all the cancer was removed, your child will likely need another procedure to remove the rest of the cancer.
This method is used for cancer that is only in the top layers of the skin. Your child is given a local anesthetic. Then, the doctor uses a small blade to shave off the tumor. The goal is to remove the tumor at its base.
This method uses cold to destroy the cancer cells. This method is best for very small cancers near the skin’s surface. The doctor uses a device that sprays liquid nitrogen onto the tumor. This freezes the cells and destroys them. The dead skin then falls off. Your child may have some swelling and blistering in the area after treatment. A white scar is usually left behind. The procedure may need to be repeated.
Types of treatment for melanoma include the following.
The goal of surgery is to remove the melanoma, while leaving as much of the nearby skin as intact as possible.
The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells directly to shrink tumors that can’t be removed by surgery. Or it may be used to kill cells that have spread to other areas of the body (metastatic melanoma).
The goal of biological therapy is to shrink advanced melanoma tumors. This type of therapy is done with medicines that affect the immune system. It is also called immunotherapy, antibody therapy, or vaccine therapy. The medicine uses the body’s immune defense to attack the cancer cells. These may also be given along with chemotherapy.
The goal of targeted therapy is to shrink advanced melanoma tumors. This type of therapy is done with medicines that target specific parts of melanoma cells. For example, medicines called BRAF inhibitors target cells with a change in the BRAF gene. This gene is found in about half of all melanomas.
Possible complications depend on the type and stage of skin cancer. Melanoma is more likely to cause complications. And the more advanced the cancer, the more likely there will be complications.
Complications may result from treatment, such as:
Melanoma may spread to organs throughout the body and cause death.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Skin Cancer Foundation advise you to:
The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old if adequate clothing and shade are not available. You should still try to keep your baby out of the sun. Dress the baby in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. But you also may use a small amount of sunscreen on the baby’s face and back of the hands.
If your child has skin cancer, you can help him or her during treatment in these ways:
After treatment, check your child's skin every month or as often as advised.
Call your child's healthcare provider if you see any unusual changes in your child's skin.
Staying out of the sun is the best way to prevent skin cancer.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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