Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy!
Well it used to but not anymore, folks! Summertime is in full swing and that means more sun and UV exposure. As Parkinson’s patients, we need to be even more aware of UV exposures than the average person because Parkinson’s patients are at increased risk for getting melanoma (aka: mole cancer). The research shows that our melanocytes or pigmented skin cells are adversely affected by the lack of dopamine and the presence of alpha synuclein protein like any other cells in our bodies and somehow turn the skin cells into melanomas. This is independent of any Parkisnon’s medication as previously thought.
The familiar risks for melanoma such as fair skin, light or red hair, lots of freckles, lots of moles(nevi) and positive family history are additional risks with Parkinson’s disease. Icing on the cake so to speak. So, we must be very sun aware. How? By doing the following:
- UV protection does not mean only during the summer. It is needed as long as the UV light is there regardless of the outside temperature. I was told by a dermatologist that if you are outside and can read by natural light then there is too much UV light and to use protection. Even if it is 6 am.
- Avoid UV exposure between 10 am-4 pm when UV exposure is the most intense. Play in the shade. Walking to the mailbox or sitting near reflective surfaces such as the pool or ocean all increase your exposure. Some of the worst exposure is on a cloudy day at the beach. Ask my kids about that day at the beach long ago…
- Pick a sunscreen you will use . Get broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as recommended. Remember the white stuff on lifeguards noses in the past? That was zinc oxide. Apply 20 minutes before getting in the water. Apply enough and reapply every 2 hours. Approximately 2 oz per application. Doing it right is not cheap. None are totally waterproof. Lotion is better than spray. Don’t forget protection for your lips. Sunscreen is not for grand kids under six months.
- Cover up: UV rated sunglasses, wide brim (3 inch) hats, UVF rated clothing. If that is not available, choose long sleeve tight weave and darker or bright colored shirts. Wet, loose, white cotton T-shirts are worthless for sun protection. Consider gloves when driving.
- Get extra window tinting on vehicle windows! It looks cool, and actually makes the inside cooler while protecting you and the vehicle interior more from unwanted UV rays.
- Tanning beds are a no no.
- Please check your skin regularly from head to toe and all places in between. Use a mirror if needed. Melanoma can show up anywhere. Even in your eyes! At the minimum see a healthcare professional once once a year for a skin evaluation and either an optometrist or ophthalmologist to check your “peepers”.
- If a melanoma is caught early the 5 year survival rate is 99%. Be aware and treat your skin with care.
NOTE: Thank you to American Cancer Society. Skin Cancer Foundation. American Dermatology Association. John Denver “Sunshine on My Shoulders” WSJ article-“Shining a Light on Sunscreen Chemicals.” 7/18-19/2020.
Marilyn M. Hart, MD, is a recently retired, board certified Family Practice Physician, residing in Tucson, Arizona. Originally from Philadelphia, Dr. Hart attended Thomas Jefferson Medical School and the University of Virginia. She has practiced medicine in four different states and eventually settled in Tucson, where she and her husband, Philip McIntyre, raised their three children and have lived for 27 years. Dr. Hart enjoys spending time with her new grandsons, being involved with music in any form, reading, mahjong cards, museums, and being with people.
In 2017, Dr. Hart was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is actively living and participating in the PD community. She is a PMD Alliance Ambassador.