11:23pm Monday 11 November 2019

Study links Parkinson’s disease with melanoma

The 31-center study, which involved more than 2,100 patients in the United States and Canada, showed that people who have Parkinson’s disease were 2 to 7 times more likely to develop melanoma.

John Bertoni, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurological sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and principal investigator of the study, said why there is an increased risk of melanoma in patients with Parkinson’s disease is a mystery.

“We don’t know why people with Parkinson’s are more prone to develop melanoma. It could have something to do with ancestry. If a person has fair skin, blond or red hair, and doesn’t tan easily, they are more likely to get melanoma. Parkinson’s disease may play a role in that,” Dr. Bertoni said.

There are several theories linking melanoma and Parkinson’s disease, he said. One of which is that the same area in the brain affected by Parkinson’s, the substantia nigra, has melanin, a skin pigment. 

Another theory is that levodopa, the leading drug therapy for Parkinson’s, is converted to melanin and is used as a building block for making pigment in the brain.

“But this doesn’t explain the link. These are just clues,” Dr. Bertoni said.

What Dr. Bertoni found in his study is that medications have no direct impact on whether or not a person will develop melanoma.

In fact, he cites data from a survey of patients in Denmark and a study in Minnesota that “suggest the increased incidence of melanoma is related to Parkinson’s disease rather than to treatments.”

Parkinson’s disease affects more than 4 million people worldwide, while more than 68,000 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in 2009.

“The bottom line is if you have Parkinson’s disease, be sure to get checked out by a dermatologist,” Dr. Bertoni said. “The vast majority of all the melanomas that were found in our study were so small that the biopsy itself removed the entire skin cancer.”

As the state’s only academic health science center, UNMC is on the leading edge of health care. Breakthroughs are possible because hard-working researchers, educators and clinicians are resolved to work together to fuel discovery. In 2009, UNMC’s extramural research support topped $100 million for the first time, resulting in the creation of 3,600 jobs in Nebraska. UNMC’s academic excellence is shown through its award-winning programs, and its educational programs are responsible for training more health professionals practicing in Nebraska than any other institution. Through its commitment to education, research, patient care and outreach, UNMC and its hospital partner, The Nebraska Medical Center, have established themselves as one of the country’s leading health care centers. UNMC’s physician practice group, UNMC Physicians, includes 550 physicians in 50 specialties and subspecialties who practice primarily in The Nebraska Medical Center. For more information, go to UNMC’s Web site at www.unmc.edu.




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