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13-10-2011 | Article

Skin cancer in children ‘more likely to be invasive’

Abstract

Free abstract

MedWire News: A type of skin cancer known as malignant melanoma is more likely to spread when it occurs in children, study findings show.

The research found that the cancer was more aggressive in people aged 20 years and under than in those aged between 20 and 24 years of age, after accounting for other factors.

The researchers remark: "Our finding is a powerful reminder that there's much about pediatric melanoma that we don't understand and that, just as is the case with other diseases, children are not small adults, but differ markedly in their response to disease."

Dr John Strouse (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA) and co-workers investigated the behavior of skin cancer in children and young adults. They obtained information on more than 2000 people diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, over a 5-year period.

The patients were divided into three groups according to their age at diagnosis: young children (aged <10 years); adolescents (10-19 years); and young adults (20-24 years).

The three age groups differed in a number of ways, report Dr Strouse and co-authors in the journal Cancer. For instance, young children with melanoma were more often male and less often White compared with the other age groups.

Of great clinical significance, melanoma in young children had more often spread to other parts of the body by the time of diagnosis, and tumors tended to be thicker, compared with melanoma in older age groups.

Among the subset of children who underwent a procedure called "sentinel lymph node biopsy" - performed to detect spread of cancer cells - 25% of children tested positive compared with just 14% of young adults. This is significant because patients with a positive biopsy have a poorer prognosis - meaning a shorter survival - than those with a negative biopsy.

The researchers say their results support the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy in children and young adults with malignant melanoma whose tumors are more than 1 mm thick.

"This finding warrants further investigation into age-related differences in melanoma biology," they write.

In a press release accompanying the study, the lead researcher added: "I advise parents to use sunscreen religiously on infants and children during outdoor activities year-round."

MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Joanna Lyford