Genes may also play a role, suggested Taub, who was not involved in the new study.
Melanoma in kids looks pretty similar to melanoma in adults, Taub said. They have irregular borders, are asymmetrical -- if you cut them in half, you would not get two equal sides -- have uneven colors, and a diameter that is greater than 6 millimeters (about one-fifth of an inch). "Parents should be aware of any new or changing moles in their children," she advised.
Choosing a sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays and reapplying it frequently is important, she said. Sun-smart clothing can also help protect children.
Dr. Ana Duarte, director of pediatric dermatology at Miami Children's Hospital, agreed. "Early diagnosis of melanoma is beneficial," she said, and the importance of protection can't be overstated. "Sunscreen and or sun protection are so important for children," Duarte said, and whatever you do, "don't ignore changing moles, even in children, because melanoma can occur in kids."
Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the new study puts childhood melanoma on the radar, and that's a good thing.
"It is rare, but children do get melanoma," Green said. "When in doubt, get it checked out. The good news is that we know how to prevent melanoma, and when we catch it early, we have really good cure rates."
What does melanoma look like? Find out at the Skin Cancer Foundation.
SOURCES: Amy Forman Taub, M.D., dermatologist, Lincolnshire, Ill.; Michele Green, M.D., dermatologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Ana M. Duarte, M.D., director
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