DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Sun Protection and Kids at the Beach

Excess sun exposure during childhood clearly increases one's risk for developing skin cancer as well as premature aging of the skin (photoaging).

The total number of skin cancers is increasing. Malignant melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, as well as basal cell and squamous cell cancers are being reported more frequently.

Early detection and prevention are extremely important in reducing injury and death from skin cancer. Detection involves observing the skin for changes, including color and texture of the skin, itching, and changes in the size of pigmented and non- pigmented skin areas. Prevention recommendations include avoiding excess sun, covering up the skin with clothing or sunblocks, and regularly applying sunscreens when exposed to the sun.

In order to determine the extent of protection from the sun that children at the beach are receiving, Dr. Ardis L. Olson and others at Dartmouth Medical School evaluated 871 children 2 to 9 years of age on the lake beaches of New Hampshire in the summer of 1995.

Dr. Olson observed the children and interviewed the parents/caregivers of the children for use of sun protection techniques. He noted which body regions were protected (head, torso, and legs) and the methods children used (hat, shirt, pants, sunscreen, or shade). His study was published in the recent edition of Pediatrics (1997;99[6]861).

The study found that only 54% of children were protected with at least one method for all body regions. This means that nearly half of the children were not protected from the sun.