Melanoma | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is melanoma diagnosed?

Become familiar with your child's skin and the pattern of moles, freckles, and other marks on his or her body. Be alert to changes in the number, size, shape, and color of pigmented areas, as this can be a sign of melanoma.

The same “ABCDE rule” used to determine whether a doctor should check a mole in adults also applies to children and teenagers:

  • A for asymmetry: one half is differently shaped than the other
  • B for border irregularity: Jagged or blurred edges
  • C for color: the pigmentation is not consistent; color could be light or dark
  • D for diameter: moles greater than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser)
  • E for evolving: a mole changing in size, shape, or color

In children and teens, color may be lighter instead of darker.

Children at higher risk should be seen by a pediatric dermatologist annually. Also, remember that melanoma can occur in places not exposed to the sun, so make sure your child’s scalp, feet, hands, and buttocks are also checked.

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, melanoma is diagnosed with a biopsy of the lesion. It is important to have your child’s biopsy reviewed by a pediatric team. Dermatologists and pathologists used to seeing adult melanomas may not notice key symptoms of melanoma in children.

What are the treatment options for melanoma?

Low-stage melanoma is treated primarily with observation. Other common treatments include:

Although treatment options for children are similar to those used for adults, a pediatric center will know how to best tailor treatment to the needs of children – and specialized programs like the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Rare Tumors Program have unique expertise and access to treatment options that might not be available at other centers.

What is the long-term outlook for children with melanoma?

Children with melanoma typically fare better than adults. The overall five-year survival rate for children and adolescents with melanoma is 90 percent. About 60 percent of children whose disease has spread to the lymph nodes are expected to survive long-term.

A significant number of recurrences and melanoma-related deaths have been reported, so frequent medical checkups are important as children become adults. Studies show that children who are treated for melanoma are at increased risk for disease recurrence later in life.