Melanoma in children increasing at an alarming rate

What you think is a harmless mole or freckle on your child could be deadly.

Competitive dancer Valerie Braaten thought her mole was just a birthmark. But, she didn't have it when she was in sixth grade, and by the time she was a freshman in high school, it showed up.

" ... they told us that the mole was malignant melanoma stage two," Braaten said.

Dr. Mark Ranalli said he's seen a two-to-three-percent increase nationally in cases of kids with skin cancer. "That increase is at a rate that is actually greater than the rate of increase in any other malignancy that we currently treat," he continued.

Keeping kids away from tanning beds and limiting sun exposure can protect them from melanoma, but a recent survey of 360 eigth-graders found only 25-percent used sunscreen if they were outside for more than six hours. 40-percent of them went outside just to get a tan.

"The problem is a tan is also a sign of injury to the skin," Ranalli said.

He continued by saying all it takes is three severe sunburns before the age of 20 to significantly increase the risk of melanoma. He urges parents to keep an eye on any moles or freckles and to watch out for these ABC's of the disease: asymmetry, borders, color, diameter and evolution.

Braaten's melanoma was caught early, because her friends noticed the mole was growing. Today, she's cancer-free and is vigilant about protecting her skin.

Some states are taking action to curb skin cancer in kids. California recently became the first state to ban children under 18 from using tanning beds.

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