Melanoma Awareness

It’s important to have your child’s moles examined regularly by a qualified professional. A board certified pediatric dermatologist is specifically trained to detect abnormal moles and skin cancers in babies, young children and adolescents.

Should my child be seeing a pediatric dermatologist for an annual mole check?

If your child has not yet developed any moles or simply has a few tiny, light brown moles that all match one another, then your pediatrician may be comfortable to monitor these. If, however, your pediatrician is not comfortable or your child has any of the following, then he/ she could be at a greater risk of developing atypical moles, skin cancer or melanoma, even during childhood, and should be examined at least once per year by a board-certified pediatric dermatologist:

  • History of any blistering sunburn
  • History of intermittent intense sun exposure
  • Freckling
  • Fair skin, light eyes or hair color
  • History of immune suppression or radiation
  • Family history of skin cancer (such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma and especially melanoma)

How can I tell if my child might have an abnormal mole that needs to be urgently evaluated?

In addition to this recommended annual visit with a pediatric dermatologist, you can perform your own monthly skin examinations at home looking for any moles that meet the “ABCDE” screening criteria. These criteria were developed by the American Academy of Dermatology in order to help families at home decide if there are any unusual moles that require a professional examination.

The “ABCDE criteria” for detecting abnormal moles that require further evaluation:

  • Asymmetry: one half of the mole is unlike the other half
  • Border: an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border
  • Color: varied colors from one area to another; shades of brown, black, white, blue or red
  • Diameter: greater than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm)
  • Evolving: any mole that looks different from the others or is changing in size, shape or color, itching or bleeding

Diameter is the least important criterion, as many melanomas can begin as lesions that are much smaller than a pencil eraser and should not be ignored. If you or your child has an odd-looking or changing mole, never hesitate to have that early lesion evaluated right away, even if it happens to be smaller than a pencil eraser. Most experts agree that the “E” for “evolving” is the single most important sign of a worrisome mole. The “ugly duckling” rule advises that any mole which doesn’t look like the rest should be immediately evaluated. In addition to a change in color or size, other symptoms such as bleeding, crusting, itching, or pain may signal a mole becoming abnormal.

How can I make my child’s annual mole check visit more comfortable for him/ her?

Many young children and adolescents prefer to wear swim suits under their clothing the day of their visits with the pediatric dermatologist so that they don’t feel self-conscious or “naked”. Anything you can do to make this visit more comfortable for them is well worth your while, as it will help them develop anxiety-free routines of having their moles checked once per year; this is just as important of a habit for them to establish as the routine of regular dental or medical checkups.

Welcome this summer season with skin that you know is healthy by visiting your pediatric dermatologist for a complete mole check and discussion of any other problems you may be experiencing with your skin so that your children look and feel their absolute best. Teach them healthy habits now, at a young age, that they will keep for the rest of their lives. When it comes to moles and skin cancer, it may someday make the difference between life and death.

Robin P. Gehris, MD (Children's Dermatology Services and Acne Treatment Center)