Pediatric melanoma – the most common skin cancer in children – is on the rise. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what predominantly causes melanoma in children, but suspect genetics play a role more than sun exposure. Those with fair skin, blonde or red hair, freckles, the inability to tan, and/or a family history of melanoma are at greater risk. It primarily occurs during the teen years but can affect any age. Melanoma is an aggressive type of cancer and can spread (metastasize) quickly to other parts of the body.
At the Solid Tumor Oncology Program, part of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, we provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for children with melanoma.
Our dedicated team of specialists evaluates your child in a single visit, and will create a customized treatment plan and begin your individualized treatment plan immediately. We are one of the first in the nation to offer this type of collaborative care for children with cancer. We are also one of the nation’s largest multidisciplinary programs caring for children with solid tumors, and have the largest pediatric oncology research effort in the state.
Our Tumor Board meets weekly to discuss the care and treatment of children who are newly diagnosed with cancer, those currently on therapy, and families seeking a second opinion. Pediatric oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians attend the Tumor Board, allowing for our collective expertise to provide thorough, comprehensive approach to the care of children with cancer.
Symptoms will vary depending on tumor size and whether or not the cancer has spread. Symptoms can include:
- Change in size, color, or shape of a mole
- A mole that looks different from the rest
- A pink or pale-colored raised mark (like a wart)
- A red spot that is flat and dry/rough
- A bleeding mole
Diagnosing melanoma begins with a thorough health history and a comprehensive physical examination. A skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis is performed by removing a sample of skin tissue for examination under a microscope.
If melanoma is the diagnosis, your doctor will stage the tumor, which determines if and how far the cancer has spread. Staging the tumor will help determine a treatment plan.
Every child’s treatment plan is individualized, based on the patient’s needs and the specific tumor, utilizing cutting-edge technology and the latest research. Because with melanoma the tumor often spreads, a combination of treatments may be necessary to destroy all the cancer cells. Treatment options include:
Surgery – Surgery is the main treatment option for melanoma removal. Each surgery is different and depends on individual factors, including the size, depth, and location of the cancer, as well as the overall health of the child. Superficial melanomas – the thinnest and most shallow lesions – are removed by surgical excision, on an outpatient basis, using only local anesthetic. The success rate is very high, while the risk of recurrence is very low.
Surgery and Lymph Node Biopsy – As melanoma invades the skin more deeply, the risk of the disease spreading to a lymph node increase. In those cases, at the time of surgical removal of the melanoma, our surgeons will also remove one or two lymph nodes. This is known as sentinel lymph node biopsy, which looks for cancer that has spread beyond the original area to nearby lymph nodes.
If the lymph node biopsy comes back negative, the patient will generally not require further treatment. If it is positive, more surgery may be required to remove the remaining cancerous lymph nodes.
Chemotherapy – If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be necessary. Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy includes a variety of drugs that are given in a variety of ways. We provide all available chemotherapy options, including continuous infusion chemotherapy, which is given slowly over one or more days through a pump that you carry with you.
Radiation – Radiation therapy is another treatment option if the cancer has spread. Radiation is the use of high-energy radiation – primarily X-rays – to kill cancer cells. When radiation treatments are given for cancer, special care is taken to ensure that as much normal tissue as possible is spared from radiation exposure. The radiation dose is precisely measured and carefully aimed to kill as many cancer cells as possible while sparing normal tissue. Learn more about radiation therapy at Mott Children’s Hospital.
Clinical trials – Our specialists are at the center of developing new therapies for cancer. In fact, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of only a few pediatric centers in the country providing patients access to Phase 1 clinical trials. Phase 1 clinical trials give patients at University of Michigan access to pivotal early-stage studies, connecting families to novel treatment therapies to patients before they are widely available.
At any time, you can ask your doctor or any of our health care professionals about clinical trial participation opportunities or you can view or sign up for studies that are currently recruiting participants at UMclinicaltrials.org.