Pregnant women have a higher risk of skin cancer

Pregnancy goes hand-in-hand with a lot of heightened awareness about what’s happening to your body. Aside from watching your belly grow exponentially, you’ll probably notice your heart beats faster, and your skin feels somewhat different.

And while you might dismiss all these things as just pregnancy side effects, you should definitely keep an eye on that last one, because it might be indicative of melanoma. A new scientific study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggests there is a decided link between pregnancy and developing skin cancer.

If you’re currently pregnant and dealing with a flood of other worries, this is probably the last thing you want to hear. However, it’s much better to be made aware of it now, because that might make you more attuned to finding early signs of it.

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The study was simply an electronic analysis of women’s medical records over the years. They looked at 462 women and discovered that those who were pregnant or had recently been pregnant had a much higher rate of contracting skin cancer. The women who had melanoma before they were pregnant were nine times more likely to have a relapse during or right after their pregnancy. They also found that, for a number of reasons, pregnant or recently pregnant women were five times more likely to die of cancer.

While the scientists haven’t yet proven the reason for the elevated risk, they have some theories. Study coauthor Brian Gastman, M.D., said that while he was “pretty shocked” by their findings, he recognizes several possible causes for the risk spike. He told Glamour, “Pregnant women are told that they’ll see changes in their skin, so they don’t think twice about it.”

As was stated above, women expect a lot of weird things will happen to their body while they’re pregnant, so rather than get bent out of shape over all of them, they just chalk it up to pregnancy. That in essence is what could be largely responsible for the rise in risk. But it’s not the only reason.

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According to Gastman, this is the first study to find this direct correlation between pregnancy and skin cancer because previous studies of this nature didn’t separate out pregnant or recently pregnant women. As such, until now, gynecologists weren’t even aware that the risk was there, so they couldn’t tell their patients to be on the lookout for skin cancer signs.

A woman’s hormones are also constantly fluctuating during pregnancy, which can encourage cancer growth, especially when coupled with a weakened immune system.

The reason the risk remains high for women who’ve already given birth falls more to where their focus now lies — with their newborn baby. Suddenly their own health is no longer the priority, which of course makes it all the more likely that a cancerous melanoma will go unnoticed. However, your health should be just as important as your baby’s, because they need you to be healthy in order to remain healthy themselves.

Dr. Gastman reminds us it’s all about early detection. You should self-check regularly, and get yourself checked by a dermatologist at least twice — once while you’re pregnant, and once right after. If you have a history of melanoma, either personal or in your family, you should up that number to every three months during your pregnancy, and for at least a year after you’ve given birth.

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Yes, this means you might be making an exorbitant number of trips to various doctors both during and after your pregnancy, but that’s to be expected anyway. And hey, it’s a lot better than having to be hospitalized on and off throughout your baby’s childhood, right?