Malignant Melanoma is known to be highly aggressive, spreading rapidly to other parts of the body if left untreated. It’s extremely rare, however, for it to be able to pass to an unborn fetus. This is what appears to have happened in the case of Briana Cox, who had malignant skin melanoma removed in 2006.

Doctors were sure that the cancer had been stopped in time, and Briana was given the all clear, going on to have a son David, who is now three, and a daughter Addison, in June 2011. Sadly, just two months after the birth, Briana collapsed while jogging, and was found to have advanced cancer in many parts of her body, including her brain.

In September 2011, four dark patches appeared on her baby Addison’s forehead and visits to the doctor led to a diagnosis of stage four melanoma. Her mother, Briana, died in February at the age of 33, from advanced metastasized cancer, but was determined to tell the painful story of how the cancer had spread to her unborn baby.

Doctors have been flummoxed as to how the metastasized cancer was able to pass across the placenta to the developing fetus. Dr. Pooja Hingorani, a pediatric oncologist who is now treating Addison at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, confirmed that the number of documented cases of something like this occurring is miniscule.

James Cox, Briana’s husband and father to Addison, was in the Azores serving in the U.S. Air Force when his wife was diagnosed. He lamented that :

“It was like running into a brick wall … It knocks the wind out of you. It was like being punched in the chest. And when Addison was, it was like being ejected from a car. You wonder, what’s next?”

Dr. Dr. Pooja Hingorani continues :

“All cancer can happen in pregnancy … But melanoma is the most common cancer to pass through the placenta from the mother … When it’s in the bloodstream it can go anywhere.”

According to Hingorani, around a third of mother-to-fetus cancers are melanoma, but she also clarified that she has only seen four to five cases, ever. Cases of women of child bearing age being diagnosed with melanoma are on the rise, and pregnant women who are at risk or have any kind of ulceration or bleeding of the skin, especially on moles or pigmented areas, should talk to their doctor.

Melanoma is an aggressive, virulent form of skin cancer that is relatively easy to treat in its early stages, but if left long enough, rapidly spreads to other parts of the body, and due to the aggressive nature, survival rates plummet.

Dr. Hingorani noted that :

“After the birth, the placenta needs to be examined carefully … It’s hard to say if we would have picked it up at birth, if Addison would have had a less extent of disease.”

The prognosis for the now 9-month-old is critical and Addison’s life expectancy is only about two years. The cancer is similar to her mother’s and is in the brain, shoulder, lungs, kidney, liver, leg, and even the back of her tongue, according to the Arizona Republic, which first reported the story.

Briana’s co-workers in the Phoenix Police Department are running a fundraiser March 3 to help the family with escalating expenses. Addison’s experimental chemotherapy costs are running at around $130 a week and there have been deductibles, co-pays and travel expenses on top.

Det. Sarah Gasper said :

“Briana and I worked together for seven years and her personality was such that she did things in her own time … She made the comment that if someone else needs help more than I do, I can help them. That’s how she looked at her job … she helped the public.”

Gasper, who is serving as the family spokesman confirmed that Addison’s chemotherapy has been individually selected to mirror her mother’s cancer and she is responding to the treatment:

“The tumors aren’t multiplying and the new ones have shrunk … Her medication has to constantly be changed for her size as she grows. The cancer cells also constantly mutate, so the chemotherapy is constantly changing.”

Donations can be made to the “Cox Family” donation account at Arizona Federal Credit Union. Account #826604. For more information, call Sgt. Keith Politte at 602-999-2214. The Phoenix Police Department fundraiser is on March 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at its Air Support Unit, 102 E. Deer Valley Road.

Written by Rupert Shepherd