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Mother diagnosed with skin cancer while pregnant urges sun safety

Andrea Lambrou, from Glasgow, underwent surgery and immunotherapy treatment and is now in remission.

A mother who was diagnosed with skin cancer while pregnant during the first summer of the Covid-19 pandemic has urged Scots to “enjoy the warm weather safely”.

Andrea Lambrou, of Newlands, Glasgow, was 36 weeks pregnant in July 2020 when doctors informed her she had malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer.

Her diagnosis transformed what was previously one of the happiest and exciting times in her and husband Nicos’s lives into a nightmare.

The remaining days of her pregnancy were spent in and out of hospital for appointments and treatment.

After a 24-hour induction, 17 hours in the labour room and an emergency C-section, her son Leo was born prematurely on July 24.

Mrs Lambrou, 39, first became alarmed when she noticed a dark freckle on her leg which appeared to have grown in size, and she was referred to the dermatology department at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

The mole was removed the same day, but a week later she was told she had cancer.

She said: “I’ll never forget hearing those words – not ‘I’m sorry, you have cancer’, but what came next: ‘We have to get that baby out now.’

“I had no choice. It was just as well I didn’t have a birth plan as there was no time to get my head around anything.”

Around four people in Scotland are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every day, which is about 1,400 people a year.

UK-wide, the figure has reached a record high of 17,500 cases a year and the numbers are projected to increase by 50% over the next 20 years, according to cancer research.

Mrs Lambrou’s cancer is now in remission and, alongside Cancer Research and Nivea Skin, she is encouraging people to take precautions to minimise the risk of getting skin cancer.

Andrea Lambrou at a recent race for life with son Leo
Andrea Lambrou at a recent Race for Life event with her son Leo, who is now two (Steve Welsh/PA)

She said: “I hope by sharing my story I can raise awareness about sun safety and about early detection.

“After three major surgeries in the first six months of motherhood and a year-and-a-half of immunotherapy treatment, I showed clear scans and I continue to do so.

“The positivity just shines from our little Leo. I couldn’t have asked for a happier, funnier, more beautiful smiley wee boy.

“But there was trauma and tears when I was first given the news that I had skin cancer. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.

“I hope I can encourage people to think about their sun habits and take precautions.

“It’s so important, because almost nine in 10 melanoma cases each year in the UK could be prevented by being safe in the sun and using a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen to avoid burning.”

She recommends seeking shade between 11am and 3pm in the UK, when the sun’s UV rays are at their most harmful.

She also suggests wearing clothes that cover the skin properly, such as long-sleeved tops, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

Sunscreen over SPF 15 is also recommended.

Andrea with her son, Leo
Mrs Lambrou is now using her story to encourage sun safety (Andrea Lambrou/PA)

The month after Leo’s birth, a large area of skin across Mrs Lambrou’s leg and knee was removed and she had a lymph node biopsy, which confirmed her cancer had spread.

After starting immunotherapy, she noticed a marble-sized lump near her groin around Christmas 2020.

In January 2021 she went through another operation to remove the lymph nodes in her groin area.

She was also kept in hospital after developing cellulitis, a series skin infection.

The mother said: “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I genuinely thought I was going to die.”

But by Easter 2021, she was told she was cancer free.

She said: “If you spot something on your skin that’s not right for you, get it checked out.”

Beth Vincent, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Melanoma skin cancer is the UK’s fifth most common cancer, so we’re grateful to Andrea for lending her voice to our campaign with Nivea Sun.

“It’s important to remember the sun isn’t only strong abroad. Even on a cloudy day, it can be strong enough in Scotland – and across the UK – to burn between mid-March and mid-October.”

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