Skin cancer among kids is on the rise. It's often caused by too much sun or indoor tanning beds. Doctors say cases are increasing at an alarming rate. What you think is a harmless mole or freckle on your child could be deadly.
"I had a mole right here on my collarbone," said Valerie Braaten.
"It wasn't scary, it wasn't black, it wasn't irregular and it wasn't very large," said Valerie's mom, Mim Braaten.
"I thought I had the mole my whole life," Valerie said.
But Valerie's mole wasn't a birthmark. In fact, it wasn't in her sixth grade picture. But in her freshman photo, there it was.
"And they told us that the mole was malignant melanoma stage two," Valerie explained.
Dr. Mark Ranalli M.D., at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says he's seen a two to three percent increase nationally in cases of kids with skin cancer.
"That increase is at a rate that is actually greater than the rate of increase in any other malignancy that we currently treat," said Ranalli.
Keeping kids away from tanning beds and limiting sun exposure can protect them from melanoma, but a recent survey of 360 eighth-graders found only 25 percent used sunscreen if they were outside for more than six hours. 40 percent of them went outside just to get a tan.
"The problem is a tan is also a sign of injury to the skin," Ranalli explained.
He says all it takes is three severe sunburns before the age of 20 to significantly increase the risk of melanoma. He urges parents to keep an eye on any moles or freckles, and to watch out for the ABCs of the disease: asymmetry, borders, color, diameter and evolution.
"So they took out the cancer that had spread here," Valerie explained.
Valerie's melanoma was caught early because her friends noticed the mole was growing. Today, she's cancer-free and is vigilant about protecting her skin.
"I think for the rest of my life I'll be going to the dermatologist regularly," Valerie said.
Some states are taking action to curb skin cancer in kids. California recently became the first state to ban children under 18 from using tanning beds. In North Carolina, the Dermatology Association is trying to re-introduce a bill that would require kids under 18 to have a doctor's prescription to use tanning beds.