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Pediatric Melanoma Awareness Month – Dr. Brittani Seynnaeve

Guest blog post by Brittani Seynnaeve, MD, MS, Associate Fellowship Program Director, Pediatric Melanoma Program Director, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Brittani Seynnaeve photo x

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that give the skin its tan or brown color) grow out of control. It is more dangerous than most other skin cancers because it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body.  In 2021, there will be an estimated 101,280 new cases and 7,180 deaths due to melanoma of the skin.  In children, melanoma is the most common skin cancer, yet only makes up less than 1% of the total new melanoma cases.  In the teenager and young adult age group, melanoma is the third most common cancer diagnosis.  Since melanoma occurs more frequently in adults, most of the scientific information that guides the medical management comes from that of adult patients.  Children are not little adults.  We can and will do better.

We know that there are often differences in the way that pediatric melanoma looks on the skin.  We also know that parents and doctors often do not know that children can get melanoma.  Children often have better outcomes than adults with melanoma, though we don’t know how to predict which children may have their melanoma spread to other parts of their body and cause death.  Because of these differences, pediatric melanoma is often caught late and even once diagnosed, doctors often are not sure how to treat it.  This is a problem because we know that catching melanoma early is very important and can lead to the cancer being an earlier stage and patients requiring less treatment and having better outcomes.

Since pediatric melanoma makes up such a small number of overall melanomas, it has been difficult to study.  The goal of our team’s research is to study the information from hundreds of pediatric melanoma patients over many years from different hospitals from our retrospective database that we created at the University of Pittsburgh so that we can better understand pediatric melanoma and be able to create pediatric melanoma specific treatment guidelines.  Our improved understanding and standardization of care will lead to better outcomes for the patients diagnosed with this cancer.

We are laser focused on growing our research groundwork through the creation of a prospective database to be able to continually study pediatric melanoma as changes and improvements are made in the care melanoma overtime.  We will be able to collect patient information when first diagnosed and over time as they are treated and monitored by their medical team.  Pediatric melanoma patients from all over the nation will be able to participate in this important research.  We will also include very important information from the patient and parent perspective by asking participants to complete surveys about their experience with melanoma.  We believe it is critical in our ability to treat pediatric melanoma to understand the patient/parent experience during the process.

Research is needed to pave the way toward improvements in our care for children and teens diagnosed with melanoma and related atypical melanocytic tumors.  We are dedicated to improving the outcomes of young patients diagnosed with this disease.

If you are interested in learning more or supporting these efforts, please contact us.  We are always excited for someone to join our fight.

Guided by the leadership and dedication of experts like Dr. Seynnaeve, the MRF is committed to leading our community even closer to a better understanding, improved treatments and, one day, a cure for pediatric melanoma. We believe that no one should have to face melanoma, especially not so early in life. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support this life-saving work today.