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Baby’s Sun Exposure Could Mean Cancer Later

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

If too much sun is bad for adult’s skin, can you imagine what it’s doing to a baby? According to a review in the July issue of Pediatrics, it could be setting a child up for melanoma or other skin cancers later in life.
Ultraviolet (UV)  rays are invisible rays produced by the sun.  UV radiation can suppress the immune system and damage skin cells – a process that may happen more quickly in babies than in adults, the authors note.

Young skin is delicate and thinner. It produces less melanin, a skin protecting pigment. UV rays can reach the pigment producing melanin cells, called melanocytes, and damage them.

Damage to those cells is a “precursor to melanoma,” says Robin Gehris, M.D., the chief of pediatric dermatologic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“Infant skin may be even more prone to sun damage than we had thought, and that might be important later on for melanoma and other cancer risk,” says Gehris, who was not involved in the new review.

Sun exposure earlier in life, from infancy through adolescence, seems to be associated with different cell changes and an earlier diagnosis of melanoma than exposure in the adult years, the article points out.

One study cited in the review has projected that 1 in 33 babies born today will develop melanoma during their lives, versus 1 in 1,500 babies born in 1935. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which publishes Pediatrics, advises parents to keep children 6 months or younger out of the sun completely.

For older babies, the AAP recommends dressing infants in brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing, applying sunscreen to any small patches of exposed skin, and minimizing sun exposure during the midday hours, when the sun is at its hottest.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease. Treatment for melanoma depends on what stage the cancer is when diagnosed. The cancerous skin cells and some normal tissue that surrounds the cancer will need to be surgically removed. How much normal tissue is removed depends mostly on how deep the melanoma has grown.

If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, these lymph nodes may also need to be removed. Treatment with interferon after surgery may be useful for these patients.

For patients with melanoma that has spread beyond the skin and nearby lymph nodes to other organs, treatment is more difficult. At this point, melanoma is usually not curable. Treatment is usually directed at shrinking the tumor and improving symptoms.

That’s why pediatricians, and other physicians, are so adamant about warning people of the dangers of too much sun.  Melanoma can cut short a promising life.

For older babies, the AAP recommends dressing infants in brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing, applying sunscreen to any small patches of exposed skin, and minimizing sun exposure during the midday hours, when the sun is at its hottest.

When out in the sun, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater that protects against UVA and UVB rays. 
Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. Use about one ounce per sitting for a young adult, and reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.Use extra caution near water and sand (and even snow) as they reflect UV rays and may result in sunburn more quickly.

To make sure that your child’s sunscreen hasn’t worn off, use one that is opaque. It won’t disappear into the skin. That way you can tell if your child’s skin is still protected.

The next time either you or your child is going to be spending any time in the sun– don’t forget the sunscreen!

It’s as important as anything else you take with you.

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