Pregnant woman dies after abdominal pain turns out to be skin cancer

A frightening case of melanoma is putting the spotlight on skin cancer and pregnancy.

A young mom who discovered that melanoma had spread throughout her body while carrying her second child died three weeks after her diagnosis.

Danielle Janofsky of Williamstown, New Jersey, was six months pregnant when she went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pains on Feb. 8. Doctors found melanoma that had spread to her liver, kidney, stomach and brain, according to a fundraising page set up for her family.

Her son was delivered via C-section about two weeks later, with Janofsky apparently waiting as long as she could for the birth so the baby could develop.

“She made the selfless and loving decision to deliver baby Jake on Friday February 24th thereby sacrificing herself so that her son could live,” the family notes. Janofsky died on February 27. She was 30.

Jake weighed 1 pound 11 ounces and is in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Pennsylvania. He has chronic lung disease and doctors are working on getting his lungs better so he can come off the ventilator, Max Janofsky, Danielle’s husband, told TODAY. The couple also has a 4-year-old daughter.

“If love could have saved her, she would have lived a hundred years,” her mom wrote on Facebook.

Janofsky was first diagnosed with melanoma in May 2015 after a suspicious mole was removed from her left shoulder, but was given “a good prognosis,” her husband said. She kept going to a dermatologist for skin checkups every three months.

The only treatment option for her advanced melanoma was immunotherapy, he added, which is not advised during pregnancy.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, with more than 87,000 Americans expected to be diagnosed this year.

Being pregnant doesn’t seem to increase the risk, the American Academy of Dermatology notes.

But it may affect the way a woman’s body deals with the cancer, said Dr. Sapna Patel, a melanoma oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Patel was not involved in Janofsky’s case, but commented in general.

“It’s possible that pregnancy is a type of immune suppression. Your body is really focusing its efforts on growing another human being, so it’s a little distracted on really taking care of itself,” Patel told TODAY.

Normally, immune surveillance appears to keep certain cancers at bay: If you’ve had a melanoma removed, you may have microscopic relapses, but your immune system sees the cancer cells and takes care of them before they can harm you, she noted.

But with pregnancy, your immune system many not be surveilling as actively while it focuses on fostering the new life.