Melanoma is rarely seen in children, but it has been on a constant upward rise for the last few decades.

"Melanoma is rare in children between the ages of 0 and 19 years with just 400-500 individuals diagnosed annually in the US," says Kimberly J. Johnson, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the study.

"Similar to what we're seeing in adults, rates have increased over the past several decades," she says. "Although the exact reasons for this trend are unclear, parents should be vigilant about helping children and adolescents reduce their chance of developing melanoma by practicing sun-protective behaviors and avoiding tanning beds."

The diagnosis of melanoma in children and teens has been increasing yearly by an average of 2 percent between the years 1973 and 2009. The study will be published on April 15 in the journal Pediatrics.

The largest percentage of UV (ultraviolet) exposure people get is during childhood because children tend to spend much more time outdoors than adults. They receive, on average, three times the amount of UV exposure that adults do during summer months. It is widely known that UV exposure is the leading cause of melanoma and it is easily preventable by wearing sunblock and clothing that limits sun exposure.

UV light from the sun is both beneficial and harmful to people and it should be taken in moderation. Ultraviolet light interacts with chemicals in the skin to produce vitamin D, which is important in development and bone health throughout life. But UV rays also cause damage to DNA, most of which is repaired by the body, but sometimes results in the development of cancer.

"The study will help put melanoma on the radar of pediatricians," said Johnson, who also is a faculty scholar in Washington University in St. Louis' Institute for Public Health.

Melanoma is easily treated if found early before it has a chance to spread. it is important see a dermatologist at least twice a year to keep track of skin abnormalities.

The pre-publication press release about the research can be found here.