Red Heads and Melanoma

Red Heads and Melanoma

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We already knew that people with red hair are at a higher risk for sunburn and skin cancer.

New research shows that it might be because of genetics.  The study from researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine says a mutation in a gene called MCR1 gives redheads both the color of their hair and the fairness of their skin.

That genetic mutation may also trigger a signaling pathway for melanoma when redheads are exposed to ultraviolet rays.  “I wouldn‘t say it‘s a genetic mutation, because it is normal for these folks.  But their normal doesn‘t provide any protection,” said Dr. Lawrence Mark, assistant professor of dermatology at IU Medical School.

The research sheds new light on why redheads are more likely to get melanoma, a heightened risk that was generally understood. He says the receptor allows activation of machinery that revs the cell up.  “When it is revved up, if it can‘t turn itself back off, that‘s the beginning of a cancer cell.”

This should lead to more research on how to better protect those with fair skin.  “It helps people who are working on therapy to further identify whether there are ways that we can block the overactive machinery inside the cell for those people who are unable to have it turn off again,” Mark said.  Until that therapy is found, Dr. Mark says wear your sunscreen – and that goes for people of all skin and hair types.