Nervous System

How Parkinson’s Disease and Its Medication Can Affect Your Skin

Statistics show that a million or more Americans have Parkinson’s disease-a progressive nervous system disease that causes shaking, resting tremors, muscle stiffness, and gait and balance problems. In addition to symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling in the skin, you can have skin problems and be at increased risk for developing malignant melanoma.

Potential Risk

Although both cancerous and noncancerous melanomas seem to occur more often in older individuals and those with Parkinson’s disease than in the general population, some studies suggest that individuals with Parkinson’s are at increased risk for developing malignant melanoma. However, researchers don’t know whether taking levodopa-a drug that doctors commonly use to treat motor symptoms of Parkinson’s-or the disease itself is responsible. In either case, it’s important to watch for early signs of skin cancer. Doctors can cure malignant melanoma if they detect and treat it in the first stages before it invades the bloodstream and spreads to other areas of the body. If the disease metastasizes, it can be fatal. Therefore, if you have Parkinson’s disease, your doctor may recommend regular melanoma screening.

Role of Dopamine

Along with the many other roles it plays in the body, dopamine regulates the control of your motor functions. Consequently, low levels of dopamine in the brain can affect motor skills, causing delayed and uncoordinated motor movements. Since the brain cells that produce dopamine have a lot of melanin-the pigment that gives skin, hair, and the iris of the eye their color-earlier scientific studies speculated on a possible connection between dopamine and melanoma. But although melanoma develops when skin cells that make melanin start to grow out of control due to DNA damage, researchers have been unable to identify a direct link between treatment with levodopa and malignant melanoma.

About Levodopa

Synthetic dopamine (levodopa) as a medication helps improve tremor, slowness of movement, and other motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Levodopa is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the brain where it is converted into the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Even though researchers haven’t determined a positive connection between dopamine and an increased risk of melanoma, if you are an older adult or have other medical problems, you may be particularly prone to the medication’s side effects. Therefore, if your Parkinson’s treatment includes taking the medication levodopa, your doctor may caution that certain medical conditions, including a past history of melanoma, can affect the potential risks and side effects of the drug.

What to Look For

It’s important to keep careful watch over your skin as melanomas can develop on any part of the body, not just areas exposed to the sun. You can get them on your scalp, in-between your toes, on the soles of your feet, in your mouth or urinary tract, and under a toenail or fingernail. Whether or not you have Parkinson’s disease and take levodopa, report the appearance of any new unexplained sores, skin growths, or lumps to your doctor or dermatologist. You should also report changes in moles or other existing skin growths, especially if you have a family history or your own past history of malignant melanoma. While less serious skin-related side effects of Parkinson’s disease and the medications to treat it may include dry skin, pale skin, skin rash, and seborrheic dermatitis, watch for changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole or skin growth. Any type of skin lesion with an irregular edge that itches, bleeds, or is tender to the touch may also be a sign of skin cancer. If you’re worried about melanoma or other skin issues associated with Parkinson’s disease, the doctors and staff at Asheboro Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center can diagnose the problem and offer treatment to improve your health.

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