June 24, 2011

A Link Between Parkinson's and Melanoma: Sunscreen! Hat! Dermatologist!

With the arrival of the year's first weekend of "official" summertime, and as millions of us head toward the great outdoors for a little R&R, let’s take a closer look at new information about the connection between Parkinson’s and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Earlier this month, the journal Neurology reported new evidence that men with Parkinson’s are twice as likely to develop melanoma than men without PD, and that women with Parkinson’s are one and a half times more likely to develop melanoma than there non-PD counterparts. There was no link established between Parkinson’s and non-melanoma skin cancers.

This PD-melanoma link is particularly unusual, since people with Parkinson’s have a below-normal risk of developing most cancers.(Lucky me. I've had prostate cancer since 1995 and I had a melanoma removed from my cheek three years ago.)

The study found that the link was “bi-directional,” since the skin cancer was more common in Parkinsonians than in others both before AND after their PD diagnoses. The link between the conditions suggests the possibility of a common "trigger." Study researcher Dr. Honglei Chen (with the National Institute of Environmental Health in Research Triangle Park, NC) said: “Both conditions may have common genetic pathways or environmental risk factors, or both.”

The link between the two conditions has been examined for decades, but studies were always too small, and therefore statistically unreliable. This time, researchers combined the results of twelve different studies made between 1965 and 2010. Pooling the data created a sample large enough to be reliable, and also enabled researchers to investigate the timing of the connection between the diseases.

Every year, about 68,000 Americans receive melanoma diagnoses, and another 8,700 die from it. Symptoms include unusual skin changes -- maybe new skin growth, or changes in the shape or color of a mole.

Pigmentation may also play a role in the link between PD and melanoma. Lighter hair color (like mine) is associated with increased risk in both conditions. The two diseases may increase concentrations of the hormone melanin, which is associated with the growth of melanomas.

Although we don’t know the exact causes of these deadly skin cancers, we do know that exposure to ultraviolet radiation – either from the sun or tanning beds – increases the risk. Genetic considerations are also likely involved, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fortunately, in its early stages, skin cancer is very treatable.

 So, what to do? The website eHealthMD.com suggests the following tips to prevent melanoma:
  • Avoid sunburns. Scientists think that even one severe, blistering sunburn in childhood can increase the risk of melanoma. (I had many.)  Sunburns in adults also are dangerous.
  • Stay out of the direct sun, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the strongest UV rays reach the earth's surface.(I didn't and don't.)
  • Avoid both direct and reflected sunlight. Sunlight reflected from water, sand, and snow can be just as damaging to the skin as direct sunlight.
  • Shield the skin with clothing. Long-sleeved garments made from light, tightly woven fabric can protect the skin in summer and yet be cool and comfortable. Use a hat with a broad brim to shade the face. (I've only recently started wearing a cap.)
  • Use sunscreen. Pick a sunscreen that provides "broad spectrum" protection against both UVA and UVB rays in sunlight. (Based on a Consumer Products review of sun screens, I've chosen Coppertone Sport High Performance, Ultra Sweatproof spray with 30 SPF.)
And see your dermatologist at least once a year! (At least I do that.)


Cynthia said...

Good morning, Mr. Schappi,

I've been following your blog for a few months, and as a 79-year-old redhead with PD (make that grayhead with PD), I found this particular blurb illuminating. Believe it or not, I never knew that my hair colour meant increased risk for Parkinson's! Melanoma, yes.

I just saw your "profile," and noticed your background in writing. This article really shows your talent. Very clear!

Thank you. And "keep up the good work"!

Cynthia in Taos (yes, sun country)

John Schappi said...

Nor did I Cynthia.  Of course I got my melanoma before I got the PD diagnosis.  I also heard about the link between red meat and sweets after I got my prostate cancer diagnosis. Story of my life,