Children and skin checks

11 Dec

Parents frequently ask about children and skin cancer checks. At what age should they start? It can be concerning when your child starts to develop new moles and spots, especially if they've had recent sun exposure. But in almost all children, the risk of skin cancer is very low and routine screening isn't recommended.

It's normal for children and young adults to develop new moles. The number of moles a person develops is influenced mainly by genetic factors.

People with many moles tend to have children with many moles.

Some are present from birth, and more will appear up to about 40 years of age. Some appear in response to sun exposure, but most will appear irrespective of the amount of time the child spends in the sun.

Having many moles can be a risk factor for skin cancer and adults with more than 100 moles are usually advised to have a full body skin check once per year (Sinclair 2012). But skin cancer in children is very rare.

Australian statistics show that in 2017, a child under 15 is approximately 100 times less likely to develop a melanoma than a 50 year old, and 200 times less likely to develop a melanoma than an 80 year old (Cancer Australia 2020).
Estimated melanoma incidence by age and sex, Australia, 2017

Because skin cancer in children is rare, routine screening isn't usually recommended under the age of 15. After that, regular skin checks might be recommended for high risk teenagers (RACGP 2018). Risk factors include:

  • Family history of melanoma in a parent, brother or sister
  • Many moles (more than 100)

Our recommendation for children:

  • Be familiar with your child's spots
  • If you notice a spot that looks "odd" or different from your child's other spots, ask a doctor to check it. This could be your GP.
  • If your GP thinks the spot looks abnormal, have it checked by a skin cancer specialist.
  • Remember that sunburns in childhood increase skin cancer risk later in life. Your child is never too young to learn about being sunsmart.