Redhead gene may boost skin cancer risk

accreditation

A gene variant carried by people with red hair, pale skin and freckles may boost skin cancer risk even without exposure to the Sun's rays, researchers said Tuesday.

Genetic analysis

The risk, rather surprisingly, is also higher for people who possess the genetic DNA signature but not the tell-tale physical traits, reported the international team.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, are based on a genetic analysis of skin cancer tumours from more than 400 people.

Read: Suspicious pigment spots more common on darker skin

It revealed that tumours from people with a redhead variant of the MC1R gene had 42 percent more mutations – the equivalent of 21 years of additional sun exposure in people without it.

Though most gene mutations are innocuous, the more that occur, the more likely a normal human cell will be to change into a cancer cell.

The findings suggested that people with an MC1R variant are more susceptible to mutagenic processes, such as UV exposure for example, that can trigger skin cancer, known as melanoma.

"This work is significant because its conclusions apply to a high proportion of the population, those people that carry at least one copy with a genetic variant in MC1R," study co-author David Adams of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute told AFP.

Read: Blue-eyed people may face higher melanoma risk

In some countries, such as England and Ireland, this could be as much as a third of the population – though only about one or two percent of all people have red hair.

Many of those at risk will not even know that they carry the variant, said the researchers.

Redheads burn more easily

Redheads receive one copy of the gene variant from each of their parents. But people who get a copy from their father or mother alone, will probably not have ginger hair – and may remain oblivious of their particular genetic makeup.

It has long been known that redheads burn more easily in the sun and are more susceptible to the mutagenic effects of UV light – thus also at higher risk of skin cancer.

But the new study suggests there are more ways, "possibly UV-independent" in which MC1R variants can increase the risk of melanoma, said Adams.

Read: Can orange juice raise your melanoma risk?

It also revealed for the first time, the risk to non-redhead carriers of the gene variant.

"These people should exercise extra care when going out in the sun as they might be highly susceptible to UV radiation and other mutagenic mechanisms, something that many people carrying MC1R genetic variants don't realise," said Adams.

People with red-haired relatives have a higher chance of carrying an MC1R variant, and should take extra care, said the team.

It was not clear whether the mutations mean that melanoma in redheads is more or less severe.

Read more:

What is skin cancer?

Symptoms of skin cancer

Types of skin cancer

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 871 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9924 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1154 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
18.10
-0.5%
Rand - Pound
20.09
+0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.68
-0.3%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.56
-0.2%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.5%
Gold
1,704.20
-0.5%
Silver
20.27
-1.9%
Palladium
2,219.50
-1.9%
Platinum
923.00
-0.3%
Brent Crude
94.42
+1.1%
Top 40
59,280
-0.2%
All Share
65,676
-0.2%
Resource 10
63,294
+0.0%
Industrial 25
79,505
-0.7%
Financial 15
14,072
+0.5%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE