Melanoma Frequently Asked Questions

Should My Child See a Pediatric Dermatologist for a Yearly Mole Check?

Often, your child's pediatrician can check for suspicious moles or lesions during routine visits.

Your child should see a pediatric dermatologist at least once per year if you find any of the following melanoma risk factors:

  • A large mole that has been present since birth.
  • History of any blistering sunburn or intense sun exposure.
  • Freckling.
  • Fair skin.
  • Light eyes or hair color.
  • History of immune suppression or radiation.
  • Family history of skin cancer (such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma and especially melanoma).

The above factors may mean your child is at a greater risk of forming atypical moles, skin cancer, or melanoma.

What Can I Do to Decrease My Child’s Melanoma Risk?

Since we can't control our genetics, sun protection is the best way to decrease your and your child’s risks of melanoma.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges that babies under 6 months avoid direct sun exposure on their skin by dressing in:

  • Lightweight long pants
  • Lightweight long-sleeved shirts
  • Wide-brimmed hats

If clothing doesn't shade all of your baby's skin, apply sunscreen to the small exposed areas (face, tops of hands).

Tips for keeping you and your child safe in the sun

  • Use a "broad-spectrum" product, meaning that it blocks both UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays. UVA rays can pass through glass. So, you should apply sunscreen to the face and exposed skin daily (even on cloudy days).
  • Apply and then reapply the sunblock with SPF of 15 or higher at least every 2 hours. Apply more often if your child is sweating or swimming.
  • Use extra caution near water and sand, which reflect the sun’s rays and can lead to a burn faster than parents expect.
  • Find shade and avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (when your shadow is shorter than you are).
  • Avoid tanning beds. Using self-tanner is safe.

How Can I Tell if My Child Has an Abnormal Mole That Needs To Be Checked Right Away?

Most moles in children are benign, but they can pose a future risk of skin cancer.

Along with your child's thorough yearly exam by a dermatologist, you should do your own monthly skin exams.

Check your child’s skin for any moles that meet the “ABCDE” screening guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology. They can help you look for suspicious moles on your child and decide if you should see a doctor.

The “ABCDEs” for finding abnormal moles on your child

When it comes to melanoma, it's best to err on the side of caution. If you find any moles on your child's skin that cause concern, call the dermatologists at Children's right away.

  • A: Asymmetry — one half of the mole is unlike the other half.
  • B: Border — an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
  • C: Color — varied colors from one area to another. Or shades of brown, black, white, blue, or red.
  • D: Diameter — greater than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm).
  • E: Evolving — any mole that looks different from the others or that changes in size, shape, or color.

Most experts agree that the “E” for “evolving” is the single most important sign of a worrisome mole. Parents should follow the “ugly duckling” rule. Have a doctor check any mole that doesn’t look like the rest.

Along with changes in color or size, have your child's derm check any mole that's causing symptoms such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Crusting
  • Itching
  • Pain

Abnormal moles in children can also be red or even look like a wart.

Although experts say "D" is a less serious factor in detecting melanoma, you should not ignore a mole's diameter. Many melanomas can start as lesions that are much smaller than a pencil eraser.

If your child has an odd-looking or changing mole — even if it's small — call our pediatric dermatologists right away for an appointment.

How Can I Make My Child’s Yearly Mole Check More Pleasant?

Many kids wear one- or two-piece swimsuits under their clothes so they don’t feel self-conscious or “naked” during their visit.

Anything you can do to make this visit easier on your child is well worth your while. It will help them form stress-free routines and feel less anxious about their yearly mole checks.

Teach them healthy habits now, at a young age, that they'll keep for the rest of their lives.

Does Pittsburgh Have Melanoma Specialists to Treat My Child's Atypical Mole (Melanocytic Tumor) or Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer in children. Diagnosing and treating kids with melanoma and atypical moles requires an expert team with special training in this area.

That's why Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC has formed a specific Pediatric Melanoma Center. Our melanoma experts approach each child individually to provide the best advice and care we can.

The melanoma specialists at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Contact the Melanoma Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

Welcome the summer season knowing your child's skin is healthy.

When it comes to moles and skin cancer, it may someday make the difference between life and death.

Call 724-933-9190 or securely email to request an appointment for a complete mole check or to discuss any other skin problems.

Learn more about the Pediatric Melanoma Center.