Skin Cancer (Melanoma) and Parkinson's

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2017

People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have an overall decreased risk of cancer diagnoses, but they have an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

Melanoma accounts for just 4-5% of all skin cancers, but it is more likely to grow and spread and accounts for nearly 75% of the cancer-related deaths from skin cancer. The major risk factor for the development of melanoma is ultraviolet light; however, researchers are increasingly recognizing the role that genetics and other risk factors play in the development of the disease.1,2

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes, the cells in the skin that give skin pigment, called melanin. Melanin is produced to protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun and is what causes the skin to tan or darken.

Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin but are most commonly found on the chest and back in men, and on the legs, neck, or face in women. The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot (like a mole) on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color. A dermatologist should check any spot that has any of the following ABCDE rule features:

  • Assymetrical – one half of the mole or birthmark doesn’t match the other
  • Border – the edges of the mark are irregular or blurred
  • Color – the color varies or isn’t the same all over
  • Diameter – the spot is larger than 6mm
  • Evolving – the mole is changing in size, shape, or color2

Am I at risk?

There is an increased risk of developing melanoma in people with PD who have a family history of melanoma, particularly those having a first-degree relative with melanoma. (First-degree relatives are a person’s parents, siblings, or child.) There is also an increased risk of developing melanoma in people who have lighter hair and skin color.1

Is there a genetic connection?

Because a family history of either PD or melanoma increases an individual’s risk of developing either disease, researchers have sought for a genetic commonality between PD and melanoma. One gene that shows a potential link between the two diseases is Parkin.3

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