Mom's Tragic Death Reveals the Dangers of Skin Cancer During Pregnancy

Danielle Janofsky
There are so many health worries that women experience when they're pregnant, but deadly cancer generally isn't one of them. Unfortunately, women who do get cancer when they're expecting might not be able to fight off the disease as effectively, which could be why one mom recently passed away from melanoma just three weeks after being diagnosed at six months pregnant. 


Danielle Janofsky was initially diagnosed with melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) in May 2015, when a mole was removed from her shoulder. At that point, she was given a "good prognosis," and dutifully went to her dermatologist for checkups every three months. But then, in February of this year -- while six months pregnant with her second child -- Janofsky went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain. Doctors discovered melanoma that had spread to her liver, kidney, stomach, and brain. 

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Two weeks later, Janofsky made the decision to deliver her son to give him the best possible chance at life. Baby Jake, who weighed just 1 pound, 11 ounces, is currently in the neonatal ICU at the University of Pennsylvania, where doctors are working on making his lungs strong enough to get him off a ventilator. Tragically, his mother died just three days after his birth, leaving behind a 4-year-old daughter Avery and her husband Max. Janofsky was only 30 years old.

It's such an unbelievably sad story, and so scary, too. Janofsky most likely believed she was going to be fine, especially considering that she was going to get checked out regularly. For the cancer to come back when it did, and with such a vengeance, must have been absolutely devastating for her and her family. And while, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, pregnancy doesn't necessarily increase the risk of getting melanoma, it can interfere with the way your body is supposed to fight it off. 

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"It's possible that pregnancy is a type of immune suppression," melanoma oncologist Dr. Sapna Patel told Today. "Your body is really focusing its efforts on growing another human being, so it's a little distracted on really taking care of itself."

In Janofsky's case, the only treatment for her advanced melanoma was immunotherapy, which isn't recommended during pregnancy. But it can get even more complicated than that for some women, as melanoma is apparently one of the few cancers that can actually pass through the placenta, which means it can be transmitted to the fetus (though this is extremely rare).

Thankfully, though he's very small and has chronic lung disease, Jake at least doesn't have cancer. But it's heartbreaking that his mother wasn't spared. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, our best defense against melanoma is early detection, so it's important to see your doctor right away if you notice a mole that looks different than other moles on your body or a spot that is bleeding, changing, or itching -- especially if you're pregnant. In its beginning phases, melanoma can be treated safely during pregnancy. Your diligence could save two lives!

A fund-raising page has been set up for Janofsky's family (as of this writing, over $80,000 has already been donated). You can make a contribution here. Our hearts are with her husband and children.

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