New research suggests those with red hair, and light freckled skin, are at much greater risk of developing several types of skin cancer. However, the same research concluded carriers of just one MC1R gene copy who do not have red hair are also more susceptible to being stricken with various forms of cancer.
The study conductors at Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute believe the extra amount of UV rays absorbed by double-copy MC1R gene carriers profoundly proliferates cell-damage conducive to cancerous growth.
David Adams, who co-led the experiment, postulates the risk for developing myriad types of skin cancer in redheads is even greater than first thought. Per Fox News:
“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.”
Adams and his team analyzed DNA data from tumor sequences of roughly 400 people with cancer. The scientists established a substantial 42 percent increase of sun-related mutations from double-copy MC1R gene carriers. An additional relevant finding from the study suggests UV light isn’t the only determinant for the manner or rate which cancer develops in double MC1R carriers. Conclusive laboratory extrapolations deemed non-redheaded, single-copy MC1R gene carriers to be at high risk too.
These additional findings led research co-funder Julie Sharp of the Cancer Research UK foundation to caution not just redheads, but all individuals of the dangers of UV overexposure.
Regarding this discovery, Sharp stated, “This… explains why red-haired people have to be so careful about covering up in strong sun. It also underlines that it isn’t just people with red hair who need to protect themselves from too much sun.”
The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene variant is linked with the formation of red hair and freckles. This genetic variation only occurs in approximately one to two percent of the world’s population, but in those who carry the gene, risk for melanoma is exponentially increased.
Adams explained to the Guardian “What this really does is show at least a contributing factor to that is more mutations.” Red heads are also more likely to harbor a greater number of mutations in their melanoma tumors, as reported by the researchers in the July 12 edition of Nature Communications.
While it is a known fact those with red hair and fair skin are at greater risk for developing various cancers, additional preventative steps can be taken to greatly reduce the risk.
Though this article is not claiming to offer medical advice, certain universal precautions to follow include.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not allow your skin to become sunburnt
- Use a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen every day. An SPF of 15 or higher is recommended. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
- Apply one to two ounces of sunscreen to your entire body thirty minutes prior to going outdoors. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Examine your skin each month for abnormalities.
- Keep newborns out of the sun, and apply sunscreen to children over six months of age before taking them outside.
- Consult your physician yearly for a professional skin exam.
(Prevention guidelines courtesy of the Skin Cancer Foundation)
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In 2013, the most recent year the data was tracked, 71,493 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin.
It was also reported that 9,394 fatalities due to skin cancer occurred in 2013.
Previous studies concluded that red heads were 100 times more susceptible to the worst forms of skin cancer. The cancer is said to originate in pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes.
[Photo by AP Images/Creative Stock]