Treatment for baby who got melanoma in the womb is as rare as disease

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Briana and Addison Cox By Jennifer Thomas Briana and Addison Cox By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- It's a situation so rare that doctors at Phoenix Children's Hospital had never seen it firsthand: a mother who passed melanoma cancer to her baby in the womb.

"What's been reported over the last few decades is about nine or 10 cases," said pediatric oncologist Dr. Pooja Hingorani.

In 2011, Briana Cox found out the melanoma she had beaten several years earlier was back after she had a seizure a month after giving birth.

Not only that, but she noticed a lesion on her newborn's scalp and later found Addison also had the disease -- Stage 4 Melanoma.

Doctors say it was transferred in the placenta.

Cox, who was also a police officer, died in mid-February.

How did this happen in the first place?

"I don't think it was expected that she was going to relapse so no one was looking for it when she was pregnant... she had another child in between and she did fine so it was just unfortunate timing of when she relapsed with this," Hingorani said.

Doctors point out a number of tumors on MRI and PET scans on Addison's brain, tongue, liver, leg and lungs.

And although the 9-month-old's prognosis isn't good, there is a bit of hope.

"Her last scan done in June, her tumor was stable and the metabolic activity of the tumors was less, so that was encouraging," Hingorani said.

Addison has responded well to the chemotherapy drug Vemurafenib.

Even Addison's treatment is rare. It's never been used on a baby until now, only adults. The Food and Drug Administration had to make a special exception just for Addison. On top of that, the drug's manufacturer is paying for the treatment!

"Both she and her mom had a specific mutation that this drug targets so she was approved to get this drug," Hingorani said. "If she was not on this drug she would have probably succumbed to this disease already."

Addison is expected to undergo more scans this month and the family is hopeful that the treatment is working.

Phoenix police are holding a fundraiser March 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Phoenix Police Air Support Unit, 102 E. Deer Valley Road.

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.