Protecting any child's skin from sunburn lowers the risk of skin cancer later in life. Nonetheless, for some parents, sun protection is even more important. Xeroderma pigmentosum is a rare genetic skin disorder that can cause serious problems for children. Learn more about this unusual condition, and find out what you need to do to protect your child if he or she has this disease.
How xeroderma pigmentosum affects the body
Xeroderma pigmentosum (or XP) only affects 1 in 1 million people in the United States, but children with the condition can find it difficult to live normal lives.
XP is an autosomal recessive disorder, which means you need two copies of a particular abnormal gene to develop symptoms. People with XP are unable to repair the damage that radiation from ultraviolet light can cause. Exposure to this radiation (including sunlight) thins the skin and causes blotchy patches of different-colored skin. The symptoms are more prominent on those parts of the body that you most expose to the sun. For example, many children have severe symptoms around their eyes.
Sunlight and children with XP
Kids with XP normally experience symptoms at an early stage. With XP, your child's skin is so vulnerable to sunlight that you may see the signs of severe sunburn after just a few minutes in direct sunlight. The affected skin will quickly become sore and red, and many children with the condition experience painful blisters that can last for weeks.
As a child with XP grows older, he or she will normally get a lot of freckles on his or her face and arms. XP causes such extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet light that you don't just need to protect your child from sunlight. Some kids with XP can even develop sunburn symptoms if they sit underneath a fluorescent light.
Serious side effects of XP
Unfortunately, XP also increases the risk of other serious side effects. 30 percent of sufferers also experience other neurological problems, which can include difficulty hearing, problems with walking and seizures. People with XP also often have sensitive eyes, which can become painful and bloodshot. You may even develop eye cancer.
XP greatly increases the risk of skin cancer. In fact, without protection, experts estimate that 50 percent of children with XP will develop skin cancer by the age of 10. What's more, most people with XP must cope with multiple skin cancers through adulthood, particularly on the face, eyelids and lips. Sadly, skin cancer is a common cause of death for people with XP.
Doctors cannot cure XP, so the top priority is to diagnose the condition at an early stage, so you can keep your child safe from sunlight exposure.
Coping with XP
A lot of people with XP die in early adulthood from skin cancer. Nonetheless, early diagnosis and robust precautionary measures can allow people with the condition to survive to a later age. Doctors recommend that parents continually look for the early signs of the disease. For example, large patches of facial freckles are sometimes an early sign of XP, so you should make sure kids with this symptom have regular skin examinations.
If your child has XP, you must develop a complete lifestyle routine to protect your son or daughter from sunlight exposure. Protect your child's skin with a strong sunscreen (SPF 70), even on a dull, cloudy day, and choose a product that protects your child from both UVA and UVB radiation. While outside, you will also need to reapply the sunscreen at regular intervals. On a very sunny day, keep children away from sand, water, snow and ice, as these conditions can magnify the effects of radiation.
While outdoors, children with XP should also wear clothing that protects their skin from sunlight exposure. While it's relatively easy to choose clothes that cover the main part of your child's body, parents may find it difficult to find a hat that offers enough protection for the face and neck. The XP Family Support group advises parents to make an UV protective hood that can effectively combat the effects of the sun.
Some medications can increase the risk of sunburn. You should always discuss any potential side effects of a new medicine with your doctor. That aside, he or she may also prescribe drugs that can stop precancerous growths from turning into skin cancer. Above all, you should regularly check your child's skin for signs of any new growths, moles or bumps. Pay particular attention to the face, neck, scalp and ears.
For more information on other skin diseases and skin cancer treatment, make sure to contact a medical professional.