Melanoma while pregnant is much more life-threatening than usual, according to a new study published online on Wednesday, January 20.
The findings, featured in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, were based on research led by Dr. Brian Gastman, founder of Cleveland Clinic’s melanoma and soft tissue cancer program.
Experts analyzed medical records pertaining to 462 female patients, with the average age of 35 at the beginning of the trial.
The women, none of whom had reached their fifties yet, had developed melanoma, known as the most deadly type of skin cancer, sometime between 1988 and 2012, and researchers wanted to see how each of them eventually responded to treatment.
The purpose was to compare the prognosis for 41 of the subjects, who had been pregnant or had recently given birth at the time of their diagnosis, with that of the rest of the study participants.
The observation period was of around 7 years, the vast majority of the patients having initially been determined to have very early forms of melanoma (stage 0 or stage 1).
At the end of the study, researchers came to the conclusion that women who had been expecting a baby at the time of their diagnosis or who had become mothers shortly before receiving their cancer verdict were much more susceptible to suffer from aggressive malignant tumors, capable of spreading or re-appearing.
More precisely, metastasis occurred among a quarter of all the expectant or new mothers included in the analysis, while affecting just 12.7% of the remaining participants.
In addition, cancer recurrence during the course of 7.5 years following the initial diagnosis was identified in more than a tenth (12.5%) of all the subjects who had been affected by melanoma while pregnant or shortly afterwards.
Basically, the risk of malignant tumors resurfacing was around 10 times higher in this category of participants, given that among the rest the prevalence of returning cancer was of just around 1.4%.
Moreover, when it came to cancer mortality, approximately a fifth of the participants who developed melanoma during or after pregnancy eventually succumbed to the disease. In contrast, just around a tenth of the rest of the subjects (10.3%) died because of this dangerous type of skin cancer.
For now, study authors insist that this disparity in mortality rates isn’t actually statistically significant and point out that the clinic where their research was conducted usually specializes in more serious malignant tumors, so it may be that in other conditions the prognosis would be different.
Nonetheless, they still argue that the findings clearly indicate a greater predisposition among pregnant women to develop much more deadly forms of melanoma.
As they speculate, this may be because during pregnancy sex hormone concentrations suffer dramatic changes, and the immune system becomes more lax so as not to endanger the growing baby, and this causes malignant cells to develop and spread more easily.
Given these risks, researchers urge expectant and new mothers to monitor any skin changes much more carefully, and alert a dermatologist as soon as possible, if they identify any abnormal growths, patches or lesions.
These recommendations should be followed especially by women who have a large number of moles on their body, who are aware of having spent too much time sunbathing or indoor tanning throughout their lives, or who have had cases of skin cancer in the family.
In addition, given that prevention trumps early detection every single time, study authors urge parents to reduce their offspring’s sun exposure and explain how important it is to use sunscreen in order to limit the amount of ultraviolet radiation that the skin absorbs.
Since nowadays melanoma prevalence is especially high among young women, who are also much more likely to use tanning beds than the rest of the population, these dangers should be presented to girls before they develop an addiction to such cosmetic devices.
After all, as scientists explain, exposure to ultraviolet radiation tends to have a cumulative effect, and mistakes made during childhood, adolescence or early youth can reverberate well into adulthood.
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