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Parkinson’s Disease Associated with Higher Melanoma Risk

People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, as compared to the general population, reports a study published online on December 3 in Movement Disorders. The study, one of the largest and longest to date on PD and melanoma, adds to previous evidence showing an increased risk among people with Parkinson’s for the skin cancer.

Led by Radu Constantinescu, M.D., Ph.D., researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Medical University of South Carolina analyzed data from the large clinical trial called NET-PD LS-1, or National Institutes of Health (NIH) Exploratory Trials in PD Long-term Study 1 (LS-1). This six-year trial had originally followed 1,737 people (1,119 men and 618 women) with early stage PD for another purpose – to investigate the effectiveness of treatment with creatine. In the course of the study, scientists found that creatine did not show beneficial effects for PD. Despite this finding, the trial data is still helpful to researchers because it collected valuable information on participants’ overall health, including the development of illnesses such as melanoma. 

Results

  • Over the course of the trial, the incidence of melanoma in the study population was 19 cases, compared with an expected incidence of 5.29 cases based on data from the general population.
  • Based on the numbers above, the risk of developing melanoma was 3.5 times higher in people with PD in this study than for the general population.
  • The study looked at a larger number of participants for a longer period of time than some earlier studies that also found a higher risk of melanoma in people with PD.
  • There were no significant differences in regard to demographics, disease characteristics and medication regimens between the participants who developed melanoma and those who did not.

What Does It Mean?

This study found that participants with Parkinson’s disease in this study had an increased risk for melanoma as compared to the general population, confirming earlier studies with similar findings. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. If detected early, it can be cured by surgery, but if detected late it is the leading cause of death among skin diseases. Given these facts, people with Parkinson’s should be vigilant about getting periodical skin examinations. 

Researchers do not yet understand the association between PD and melanoma. Interestingly, melanocytes (the cells that overgrow in melanoma) and neurons (cells affected by PD) share a similar origin. Additionally, some evidence suggests that melanoma and PD may share genetic and biological characteristics. Previously, levodopa, the gold-standard PD medication, had been suggested as a possible cause but studies have shown increased risk for melanoma even in untreated people with PD, so there is no evidence to support this theory. Further research is needed to learn more about the mechanisms underlying this relationship between melanoma and PD. 

In the meantime, people with PD can protect their health by having annual skin screenings by a dermatologist and knowing the signs of melanoma. 

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Do you have questions about this study or another topic related to Parkinson's disease? Contact PDF's HelpLine at (800) 457-6676 or info@pdf.org.

Reference: Constantinescu, R, Elm, J, Auinger, P, Sharma, S, Augustine, E, Khadim, L, Kieburtz, K (2013) Malignant Melanoma in Early-Treated Parkinson’s Disease: the NET-PD Trial. Movement Disorders. DOI: 10.1002/mds.25734 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/mds.25734

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Source Date: Dec 16 2013