How your beach vacation can cost your kids

COLUMBUS, OH (MEDIASOURCE) - Whether it's a family beach vacation, hours spent on the baseball field or sitting by the pool, doctors say keeping children's skin safe under the hot, summer sun should be top of mind for parents.

Cancer experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio have recently reported an increase in the number of skin cancer cases among children ages five to 16. In fact, melanoma, a deadly cancer of the skin's pigment elements, causes 10 percent of cancer cases in teens 15-to-19 years old, and the number of people diagnosed with the disease has increased by 40 percent over the last 10 years.

"Increased use of tanning beds and sun exposure is likely one of the major causes in the increased melanoma incidence in teenagers," says Dr. Jennifer Aldrink, a pediatric surgeon at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "However, there are a host of other factors we don't fully understand yet that may also contribute. The bottom line is sun exposure dramatically increases risk of skin-related cancers, particularly melanoma in children and teenagers."

Valerie Braaten, 15, of Columbus, Ohio knows that lesson too well. With her fair skin and blond hair, family vacations in the sun took their toll with a few bad burns, and a diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer.

"It was surprising that someone my age would get skin cancer and I don't think most people my age think about getting it," says Braaten.

"The degree of sunburns that a child may have accumulated throughout their lifetime, by the time they get to teenaged, or early adulthood, it's enough to result in melanoma," says Dr. Aldrink.

Dr. Mark Ranalli, pediatric oncologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital says parents should start to educate their children at a young age about using sunscreen and reapplying it often when they're active in the sun.

"Melanoma is the most common cancer encountered by women in their late 20's. Good skin protection practices at a young age may reduce the chances of developing melanoma in adulthood," says Dr. Ranalli.

Drs. Aldrink and Ranalli, who are also faculty members at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, offer these skin safety tips for summer:

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB coverage. An SPF of at least 30 is preferred and the best sunscreens have one of these three ingredients: avobenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
  • Apply sunscreen, even on a cloudy day, to all exposed skin 30 minutes before sun exposure and every two hours thereafter while in the sun. Reapply after leaving the water and toweling dry.
  • Seek the shade as much as possible. Keep children under a beach umbrella while taking a break from the ocean, playing in the sand or taking a nap.
  • Use sun protective clothing. Long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat with flaps that cover the back of the neck offer more protection.
  • Avoid peak sun exposure hours (10 a.m. - 2 p.m.). Choose indoor or shaded activities at this time, and hit the beach or pool early or late in the day when the sun is less intense.
  • Wear UV-rated sunglasses to help protect eyes from damaging UV rays.
  • Long after sun exposure and throughout your life, watch for warning signs: moles or freckles that change in character over a short period of time - color, size changes, border becomes irregular, etc.

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