Skin Cancer and Pregnancy: What Every Woman Should Know


During pregnancy, most women experience some kind of hyperpigmentation or skin pigmentation disorder. Melasma, especially common in pregnant women, creates a pregnancy "mask" which can resemble the Lone Ranger.

For me, I not only develop crazy skin tags, which tend to fall off or disappear postpartum, but I also notice more moles and darker freckles popping up on my skin. It's all part of the drill.

According to my dermatologist, the sudden outcropping of cherry angiomas on my upper thighs is a typical reaction to pregnancy as well. These angiomas are tiny, dark red, and, unfortunately for me, persistent. They don't go away after pregnancy.

Since I became pregnant, one red spot on my knee had grown and become raised, which is what led me to visit my dermatologist for a skin check. To my relief, he wasn't worried about the raised red bump. He injected a numbing agent under the spot and removed it, preparing to send it off to a pathologist. The biopsy will ensure it wasn't an errant Spitz nevus, which usually only occurs in younger people.

I stared at that growing spot during the past few months and even looked at the pictures from How to Spot Skin Cancer, thinking it could it be basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

But the doctor feels certain, based on the enthusiasm with which cherry angiomas sprouted up on my body during this pregnancy, that it's just a large cherry angioma and nothing to worry about. I was glad to have my concerns alleviated, and get that spot biopsied just in case.

Next Page: Why pregnant women should be concerned

[ pagebreak ]But my anxiety wasn't without reason. Nearly one-third of cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, are diagnosed in women during their childbearing years, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Although pregnancy does not make it more likely for a woman to develop melanoma, a woman could mistake skin cancer for pregnancy-related skin changes.

Unfortunately, I knew a woman who dismissed her concerns regarding a spot on her stomach that appeared during her second pregnancy, only to have it diagnosed—too late—as a malignant melanoma. After her death, I came to associate pregnancy with the onset of skin cancer.

I wasn't alone in my assumption."The well-known cutaneous changes associated with pregnancy have led to the hypothesis of hormonal mediators," Keyvan Nouri says in his book Skin Cancer. He also hypothesizes that the increased number of malignant melanomas found in pregnant women in recent years may also be an effect of women having delayed pregnancy "into the later reproductive years."

His hypothesis is echoed by a study released last week regarding pregnancy and malignant melanoma from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The study posits that the hormones of pregnancy do not have an effect on melanoma itself, unlike the effects the same hormones have on breast and ovarian cancers.

Nouri also lists many benign growths associated with pregnancy, including skin tags, wartlike seborrheic keratoses, and oozing pyogenic granulomas. If anyone wants to discourage teen pregnancy, they might have success posting this list in girls' bathrooms.

Pregnancy hormones are probably not going to causea malignant melanoma to spring up on my high-risk skin, but they sure can leave a lot of benign wreckage in their wake. And, as always, it's important for everyone—pregnant or not—to have their skin studied annually by a dermatologist. Even if it's only to keep the anxiety levels low.