Question: I try to protect my children from sun exposure to prevent skin cancer. But I'm wondering if that's the only risk factor I should be thinking about?
Answer: While exposure to the sun is certainly a big factor in the risk of developing skin cancer, it's not the only one. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is much more common in fair-skinned people, especially those with blond or red hair and light-colored eyes.
Skin cancer is rare in children, but the habits you set with your child now will have a direct impact on their chances of developing skin cancer later in life. Taking the time now to teach your children about the importance of covering their skin is a lesson that will stay with them into adulthood.
Other risk factors that you should be aware of include a family history of skin cancer; large or many ordinary moles; freckles; a weakened immune system; smoking; radiation exposure; human papillomavirus or HPV; and certain rare inherited conditions, such as nevus syndrome, Gorlin syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be proactive about reducing your risks. Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, pants, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher on all exposed skin, even on cloudy days. Reapply the sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
Remember that sand and pavement reflect ultraviolet rays even under an umbrella. In the winter, snow is a very good reflector of dangerous UV rays.
Check your birthday suit on your birthday. Look at your skin carefully, and if you see anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, consult a medical provider.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says sunscreen should be used on infants younger than 6 months only if adequate clothing and shade are not available. For older infants and children, try to avoid sun exposure if possible. Otherwise, make sure to use a high level SPF sunscreen and reapply as necessary.
The bottom line for you and your children is to reduce the risk factors that you can control, such as exposure to the sun. You can't reduce the risk factors that are genetic, but being aware of them and teaching your children will help them now and in the future.