February 03, 2023
Pregnancy-related skin changes or skin cancer? How to tell the difference
BY Sarah Zizinia
Body changes are a normal, expected part of pregnancy for most women. In addition to a growing belly, you can also experience changes to your hair and skin due to hormone shifts during those nine months.
These skin changes can involve hyperpigmentation, dryness or rashes, skin darkening and mole changes. But how can you tell the difference between pregnancy changes and skin cancer? We spoke with dermatologist Anisha Patel, M.D., to learn more.
Watch for these pregnancy-related skin changes
First and foremost, Patel wants patients to know that pregnancy does not increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
“Pigment cells in our skin have estrogen receptors. With extra estrogen circulating throughout your body during pregnancy, this can cause hormone-related skin changes,” explains Patel.
These changes can include:
Melasma, also known as “the mask of pregnancy,” is a common condition of skin darkening that some women experience during pregnancy. It’s characterized by patches of coloration on the cheeks, forehead and upper lip. Melasma usually decreases or goes away after delivery, but you should still try to prevent additional exposure to harmful UV rays.
“For patients who have melasma, safety measures like sunscreen and protective clothing are really important,” says Patel.
Mole changes. Extra pigment can also cause moles to change color or shape. While there isn’t an increased risk of skin cancer, people are more likely to put off regular skin checks during pregnancy, says Patel.
“Don’t delay regular dermatology appointments,” advises Patel. “We don’t want people to write off something potentially dangerous as a normal, pregnancy-related change.”
She adds that doing a biopsy or skin cancer incision is completely safe during pregnancy. These procedures don’t require anesthesia, so you shouldn’t be afraid to seek treatment.
Dryness or rashes. Many pregnant women experience skin dryness, especially on the belly. Patel recommends preventative moisturizing and checking with your doctor if you suspect you may have a rash.
“There’s a whole list of rashes that are specific to pregnancy,” says Patel. “If people notice a new rash coming up, you should see a dermatologist or start with your OB-GYN for a recommendation.”
Skin tags and hemangiomas. Some women notice an increase in skin tags or in bright red benign blood vessels on the skin, called hemangiomas.
“They aren’t harmful but typically do not go away after pregnancy,” says Patel. “They can be cosmetically removed after delivery.”
She adds that some of these skin conditions can also be caused by hormones in birth control pills.
Know the signs of skin cancer
While skin changes do happen during pregnancy, you should let your doctor know about any new or changing spots on your skin that last for two weeks or more.
Skin cancer symptoms may include a:
- new spot on the skin
- change in the size, shape or color of an existing spot. These changes can vary greatly so there is no one way to describe how skin cancer looks.
- spot that is itchy or painful
- non-healing sore that bleeds or develops a crust
- red- or skin-colored shiny bump on the top of the skin
- red rough or scaly spot that you can feel
- growth with a raised border and central crust or bleeding
- wart-like growth
- scar-like growth without a well-defined border
Most skin changes go away after pregnancy
Overall, Patel says pregnant women should be assured that most skin changes will go away after delivery. But if something doesn’t feel right, ask your doctor for their opinion.
“Even though skin changes happen, it’s worth having them evaluated so you don’t delay care,” says Patel.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsSkin Cancer Skin Cancer Screening
Even though skin changes happen, it’s worth having them evaluated so you don’t delay care.
Anisha Patel, M.D.