Published on July 24, 2020
What to Do When Given a Melanoma Diagnosis While Pregnant
Cancer during pregnancy is rare, occurring in approximately 1 in 1,000 patients, but it does happen. It can be challenging to diagnose because so many changes are happening in a pregnant person, that some symptoms may be masked by the pregnancy itself.
The most common malignancies associated with pregnancy are melanoma, breast cancer, cervical cancer, lymphomas and leukemias.1
Melanoma is on the Rise
Around the world, the incidence rate of melanoma diagnoses is on the rise and approximately one-third of all women who are diagnosed with melanoma are in their childbearing years.2
As with all cancers, early detection is key. Patients with a history of melanoma need to be aware of the risk factors and should get screened more frequently. It’s safe to get a biopsy during pregnancy, so no need to delay diagnostic procedures.
Scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the relationship between malignant melanoma and pregnancy, but studies show that women diagnosed with malignant melanoma during pregnancy do not have thicker tumors or other features that would worsen survival.3 But early diagnosis and treatment are key.
Signs of Melanoma
Dermatologists use an ABCDE criteria to evaluate existing moles: asymmetry, border irregularity, color variegation, diameter greater than 6mm, and evolution. This helps your medical team monitor skin aberrations and keep a history from visit to visit. You can use the same criteria to monitor yourself between appointments.
If you see something, say something. Also, ask a spouse, friend, or care partner to keep an eye on parts of the body that you can’t see easily, like your back, behind the ears, and your scalp. If you have a lot of moles, your dermatologist may suggest taking pictures to make it easier to identify changes over time.
Many people are low in vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, so it may seem like there is conflicting information about staying safe (wearing 30 SPF sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat) plus getting 20 minutes of sunshine per day.
In August 2012, during my second pregnancy, my OB/GYN called to give me the results of my vitamin D test. Surprisingly, I tested low. I’m someone who loves the outdoors and tans naturally, even with sunscreen from head to toe. So, I supplemented my diet and got my numbers back to the desired levels.
A Lifetime of Prevention and Protection
Dr. Mark Gimbel, from Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, gave some helpful tips in a Patient Power Ask the Expert video, Tips to Prevent Skin Cancer. Cover up your children from day one. Their early skin burns can have lifelong consequences. I tried to keep swim shirts on my kids for as many summers as they would tolerate.
“Now, for the sunscreen, we typically recommend using a SPF of 30 or above to give you adequate protection,” Dr. Gimbel said.
“I think 30 is the least I would use for sunscreen. However, just because you put it on once during the daytime you need to keep reapplying it approximately every two hours, and if you’re swimming or sweating it needs to be reapplied much more frequently,” he added.
Also, visiting tanning beds is not a safe way to get a tan.
“I think we need to be really careful about using the tanning booths because it’s actually been shown to increase risk of melanoma by seven-fold,” he said.
We need the sun, and for many of us, being outside is key to our mental health while we go about our day, walk dogs, and play with kids. But, doing it in a safer way can lead to healthier outcomes in the long run.
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~Lauren Evoy Davis
1Hepner A, et al. Cancer During Pregnancy: The Oncologist Overview. World J Oncol. 2019;10(1):28-34.
2Berk-Krauss J, et al. Pregnancy and Melanoma: Recommendations for Clinical Scenarios. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(2):113-115. Published 2018 Mar 1.
3Andtbacka RH, et al. Sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma in pregnant women. Ann Surg Oncol. 2013;20(2):689–696.
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