Researchers have found that approximately one-third of cases of melanoma are identified in women during their pregnancy years (1). It is a deadly form of skin cancer which affects the cells that produce the melanin pigment (2).
Many women are choosing to be pregnant in their third or fourth decade of life. With melanoma being the most common type of cancer among women of the age 25-29 years, there are greater chances of diagnosis in women before or during their pregnancy (3).
However, there have been many studies and speculations regarding the effect on the hormones and melanoma. There are a few studies which speculated that the pregnancy hormones could have an impact on melanoma making it spread more rapidly. But unlike cancers that affect the ovaries and breasts, studies and evidence suggest that pregnancy does not elevate the risk of melanoma or developing melanoma (4).
Getting Pregnant After Being Diagnosed With Melanoma
Three small case studies were reviewed to find the prognosis for women who have been diagnosed with melanoma prior to getting pregnant. No significant evidence was found linking the recurrence of melanoma and the impact of pregnancy hormones. However, there are a few things to consider if you have survived the disease and now trying to get pregnant (5).
- The stage of melanoma in the woman needs to be considered
- Three variables play an important role- thickness of the tumor, presence/absence of ulcers, how far the disease has spread- like to the lymph nodes and other organs
If all the factors are favorable in the woman’s case, then the patient is most likely to survive the disease. It is advised that women with excellent prognosis can try to get pregnant without any delay.
But for a woman with an unclear prognosis, the case is different. If they have a tumor that is in a later stage, and if the rate of recurrence seems to be high, they are advised to hold off on pregnancy for another 2 or 3 years (6).
Diagnosing Melanoma During Pregnancy
The prognosis for a pregnant woman who is diagnosed with melanoma during her pregnancy and before or after it is pretty much the same. While being diagnosed with melanoma at any time is scary, it is especially scary during pregnancy. It can cause more anxiety in a pregnant woman as she becomes concerned for the safety of her baby as well. The studies show that pregnancy does not affect the patient’s outcome in any adverse way. Also, the baby is affected by melanoma in very rare cases such as when the woman is diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease and it has spread to her entire body (7).
In cases where the disease is found in an early stage during the pregnancy, the patient receives the same treatment as any other woman. The treatment includes making a wide local excision to take out the tumor. If the woman is further along with her pregnancy, an obstetrician will be involved in the procedure to monitor the baby (8).
If the tumor is deeper than 1mm, the patient is advised a different procedure such as sentinel lymph node mapping and biopsy. Whereas in cases where the melanoma has advanced, the treatment options may be limited. Though it is a rare occurrence, it if does happen, multiple doctors are involved in the treatment of such instances (9).
If you notice a changing or suspicious spot on the skin, it is better to get it checked by a doctor than self-medicating. When it comes to spots on the skin, we often tend to ignore it thinking it’s a harmless mole or a spot. But if you find something funny-looking, consulting a doctor is the best option. Better to be safe than sorry.