While skin cancer in children rarely occurs, studies are now indicating that infants who have had sunburn can be as much as eight times more likely to experience skin cancer in adulthood, compared to people who experience intense and prolonged exposure to the sun only later on in life. One of the characteristics of infant and children’s skin is the heightened sensitivity it has to irritants.
Among the things that can severely affect an infant’s skin is severe sunburn. While sunburn in adults can be easily treated with fluids and creams, in children, the effects are often much more severe.
Below six months of age, infants are greatly intolerant of the sun because their skin is very thin and fragile. Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause intensive dehydration as well as actual skin cell destruction, since ultraviolet rays have the effect of damaging the protein in the skin. When an infant experiences sunburn at this stage, the common effects are severe dehydration. That can lead to other complications; soreness on the affected areas and fever if the infant is unable to handle the loss of water causing stress on the body. Older than six months, children should still be protected from the sun, especially during the period between 10am in the morning and 4pm in the afternoon.
Skin Cancer in a Child
Some children have a certain defect in the enzyme system called xeroderma pigmentosum. This leads to the inability to repair the DNA that is damaged by overexposure to harmful UV radiation. In these rare situations, children may develop the disease as early as during the first ten years of their life. Another factor to seriously consider that increases the risk of skin cancer in children, is if your child has undergone radiotherapy for cancer elsewhere in the body. Any moles in the area covered by radiation treatment have a much higher chance of becoming malignant whether that be during childhood or later in life.
Skin cancer in a child who suffers severe sunburn often manifests only later on in adulthood. Depending on the degree of sun exposure, genes, and overall health of the child, any one of the three types of skin cancer may occur – basal cell carcinoma (the most common), squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma. Whatever type is acquired, skin cancer is very destructive, especially those which metastasise to other body parts such as the lungs and liver.
In infants, care and prevention of severe sunburn is heavily dependent on the parents. Information is key to ensuring that parents know the dangers of excessive sun exposure on young infants. In older children, however, severe sunburn can be acquired during play, which may be much more difficult to regulate and monitor for parents.
If your child gets severely sunburnt, there are several steps that must be undertaken immediately. One of these is to ensure that your child receives adequate fluids to counterbalance the dehydrating effects of the sun. If peeling and soreness develops, apply skin creams such as calamine and mild and moisturizing lotions. If your child develops blisters and a high fever, consult a doctor immediately.
In summary, skin cancer in children is unlikely unless there is a medical reason such as radiotherapy or defective DNA. However, it is vital that as a parent or grandparent, you protect your loved ones from as many cancer causes as you can. This means NEVER letting children stay in the sun unless thay have adequate sun block on their exposed areas or better still, are wearing protective clothing.