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Melanoma and Pregnancy: Five Frequently Asked Questions

By September 10, 2008

Sobering statistic of the day: about one-third of women are of child-bearing age when diagnosed with melanoma. At the American Academy of Dermatology meeting in Chicago a few weeks ago, Yale University dermatologist Dr. Jean L. Bolognia, MD answered the following five frequently asked questions about melanoma and pregnancy (this is the abbreviated version; for the full answers, see the original report):

1. Should a woman consider getting pregnant if she has previously been diagnosed with melanoma? Yes. Recent research has shown that melanoma has no effect on the survival of women who became pregnant within five years of their diagnosis.

2. How long must a woman who has been treated for melanoma wait before becoming pregnant? It depends on the stage of the disease. In general, a two-year delay before becoming pregnant is recommended -- unless you have high-risk disease disease, in which case a three-year delay is recommended.

3. Does the prognosis differ if the melanoma is diagnosed when the patient is pregnant? Studies shows that there is no difference, for stage I and II disease at least.

4. What can dermatologists do to minimize the depth of melanomas identified in pregnant women? Doctors should biopsy a suspicious lesion in pregnant women even when it's a shallower depth compared to non-pregnant women. (By they way, you may have heard that moles grow during pregnancy. They do not -- they only stretch in the areas of weight gain.)

5. If a pregnant woman has metastatic melanoma, what is the chance that the child will also develop melanoma? Unfortunately, the chance of "fetal metastasis" is 20-25%. Of all the cancers diagnosed during pregnancy, melanoma is the one most likely to cross the placenta and harm the fetus.

Sources:

Summer Academy Meeting 2008. American Academy of Dermatology. 9 September 2008

Leachman, SA. (2007). "Management of melanoma during pregnancy." Dermatological Nursing, 19:145-152. 9 September 2008

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