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BALTIMORE, Md. — For Melissa Cummins, the news that her 11-year-old son had skin cancer was a shock.
"I was sick," she said. "I actually dropped down, and I couldn't talk on the phone."
While the Maryland family often spent time outdoors, hunting, fishing, and on the boat, cummins said she was vigilant about skin protection.
Doctors agree that skin cancer at such a young age is still uncommon, but the rates are increasing at a surprising rate.
Dr. Bernard Cohen is the director of pediatric dermatology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. He said 10 years ago, he never saw skin cancer in a child. Now, though, he sees a few cases a year.
"So many people don't think that kids are going to get skin cancer. It doesn't discriminate." Melissa Cummins
"Commensurate with the adult epidemic in skin cancer, children are not that far behind," he said. "Clearly, people are outside getting a lot more sun exposure, getting tons of sun exposure, particularly early in life."
He said it's not just melanoma that's on rise: he's seeing more incidences of less serious basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma among children, as well.
Doctors can't point to any definitive reasons for the increase, but Cohen believes genetics and more exposure to ultraviolet light are definitely factors.
"I think some of the problem in children under the age of 12 is that we don't really understand what it means for them, lifelong," he said.
For example, the chance of recurrence after melanoma can be as high as 50 percent. But Cohen believes that in a child who has years and years left to live, that chance could be much higher. That's why Cummins says she is constantly checking all of her children's skin.
"So many people don't think that kids are going to get skin cancer," she said. "It doesn't discriminate, and it doesn't matter how old you are. My only thing is to be aware of what is on your own body."