Though melanoma is very rare in children, and rare in dark skinned adults, just how rare is it in a person who’s both dark and under age 20?

• Children DO get melanoma.

• Blacks and olive toned people get this deadly disease as well.

• Both diagnoses are rare.

• Are there any statistics of this disease in the dark skinned child?

And then there’s the issue of just what constitutes “dark” skin. To a Caucasian, a medium caramel color is considered “dark.”


But that naturally deep bronzed child is light against someone towards the end of the dark spectrum.

Shutterstock/Nolte Lourens

But all can get melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer that usually does NOT arise from a pre-existing mole.

“Melanoma in children is overall rare, with approximately 90 percent of these cases occurring in those ≥10 years of age,” explains Neelam Vashi, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, and Founder and Director, Boston University Center for Ethnic Skin.

Dr. Vashi says, “Pediatric melanoma is typically defined as melanoma occurring in those younger than 20 years of age.

“It represents only 1-4 percent of all melanomas. Because of its rarity, it is overall not well-characterized in regards to its biology and clinical behavior.

“Melanoma has an incidence of nine per million in those aged 15-19, and it is even rarer in younger children.

“In regards to those with darker skin types, the incidence rates are even less. These lower incidence rates of pediatric melanoma have been reported among American Indian (2.1 per million) and Hispanic (3.3 per million) children.”

We can deduce that the rate of melanoma among kids with skin darker than Native American and Latino/Hispanic – such as those of Southeast Asian or African descent – is even less than the aforementioned incidence rates.

What makes this even more intriguing is that some people of African descent aren’t as dark as some people of South American heritage.

There are also some Southeast Asians who are much darker than many African Americans, while those who are biracial may be lighter than some Native Americans and Hispanics.

With all that said, genetics is also a player in who gets melanoma and who doesn’t, especially among children, who do not have decades of excessive sun exposure behind them.

If you have a dark child, should you panic about melanoma and obsess over his or her natural moles?

Don’t. Be aware and conscious, yes, of signs of skin cancer, and check your child’s skin every month. But do so with a relaxed rather than anxious approach.

Worry more about making sure your child knows how to swim and safely ride a bicycle in the neighborhood, as drownings and fatal bicycle collisions with motor vehicles are far more likely to happen. So is death related to not wearing a seatbelt.

And it’s perfectly okay to put sunscreen on a dark skinned child.

Nobody has natural immunity to melanoma, just like nonsmokers don’t have 100 percent immunity to lung cancer.

dr. vashiDr. Vashi is a recognized leader in medical and cosmetic dermatology in the care of patients with skin of color. She currently has many active projects including skin hyperpigmentation, chemical peels and sun protection.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Andrey_Popov