Posted 9:37 AM 9/6/2012 : Skin cancer striking at a younger age
Most people don't associate skin cancer with kids, but doctors are now diagnosing more and more children with the condition.
They're finding it in teens and children as young as 10 years old.
Doctors aren't sure why this is suddenly cropping up but they believe genetics and ultra violet light exposure are playing a big role.
For Melissa Cummins, the news that her 11 year old son had skin cancer was a shock.
"I was sick. I actually dropped down and couldn't talk on the phone," says Cummins.
And while the Maryland family often spent time outdoors, hunting fishing and on the boat, cummins says she was vigilant about skin protection.
"They wre not outside without hats, bonnets as babies, sunscreen always gets put on to the point that my boys fuss at me."
Doctors agree that skin cancer at such a young age is still uncommon, but rates are increasing at an alarming rate.
Dr. Bernard Cohen, the director of Pediatric Dermatology at the Johns Hopkins Children's 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. 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," says Dr. Cohen.
He also 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 Dr. Cohen believes genetics and more exposure to ultraviolet 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."
For example, the chance of recurrence after a melanoma can be as high as 50 percent, but Dr.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 children's skin.
"People don't think kids are going to get skin cancer and it doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter how old you are and my only thing is to be aware of what's on your own body."