New study says red-headed people are at much higher risk of developing skin cancer than those who are not
Red hairs may look unique and eye-catching but there is a problem associated with them. They can put a person at higher risk of skin cancer.
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A combined team of researchers from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Leeds has found that gene variant that causes red hair is associated with higher number of mutations in skin cancer and the risk is comparable to 21 years of sun exposure in people without the variant.
“It has been known for a while that a person with red hair has an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer, but this is the first time that the gene has been proven to be associated with skin cancers with more mutations.” Lead research Dr David Adams said in a statement.
People with red hair carry two copies of a gene variant called MC1R that affects the production of melanin pigments in the skin and also causes freckles and pale skin tone. New research suggests that having even a single copy of MC1R gene increases the chances of most serious type of skin cancer called melanoma. On average, red-headed people have 42% higher risk of developing melanoma compared to those who do not carry the gene variant.
“Unexpectedly, we also showed that people with only a single copy of the gene variant still have a much higher number of tumor mutations than the rest of the population,” said Adams. “This is one of the first examples of a common genetic profile having a large impact on cancer genome and could help better identify people at higher risk of developing skin cancer.”
To arrive at conclusion, researchers collected data of tumor DNA from more than 400 people and found a clear-cut link between the gene variant MC1R and melanoma.
“This is the first study to look at how inherited MC1R gene affects the number of spontaneous mutations in skin cancers and has significant implications for understanding how skin cancers form,” said joint lead researcher Tim Bishop. “It has only been possible due to the large-scale data available.”
Red-headed people comprise around 1 or 2 percent of the world’s population and about 6% of the United Kingdom’s population but more importantly 16% of redheads of world’s population suffer melanoma.
Since having copies of the gene is inherent, people can do nothing about it. The only way they can protect themselves from melanoma is through care and cautiousness. Avoiding excessive exposure to sun is necessary for all those who are more susceptible to melanoma.
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Dr Julie Sharp says. “This important research explains why red-haired people have to be so careful about covering up in strong sun. It also underlines that it’s just not people with red hair who need to protect themselves from too much sun. People who tend to burn rather than tan, or who have fair skin, hair or eyes, or who have freckles or moles are also at higher risk.”