What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a highly malignant skin cancer that begins in melanocytes — cells that make melanin — of normal skin or moles and spreads rapidly and widely. It primarily occurs in adults, but about 300 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with melanoma each year. While melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer in adults, skin cancer in children is almost always melanoma.

Among children and teenagers, melanoma often looks different and may grow faster than it does in adults — sun exposure also plays less of a role in the development of the disease in children. Pediatric melanoma has increased on average 2 percent-per-year since 1973, although its frequency seems to have decreased over the last few years. Children with fair skin, freckles, and blonde or red hair are at higher risk of developing melanoma than other children.

How we care for melanoma

Children with melanoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Rare Tumors Program. Our treatment teams have expertise in treating many rare forms of cancer, and many of our specialists are also active researchers, providing your child access to the most advanced treatments available.

Our areas of research for melanoma

Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s is at the forefront of new research and clinical trials investigating the use of precision medicine and immunotherapy to treat childhood and adolescent melanoma. Precision medicine tailors treatment to the specific genetic characteristics of the patient’s cancer – for example, selecting drugs matched to the tumor profile. Immunotherapy for melanoma works by unleashing a very brisk and sustained response of the immune system against melanoma cells.

If you have questions or need advice on whether a particular trial would be appropriate for your child, email our clinical trials team at