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Gingers More Prone to Skin Cancer

Researchers identify an unexpected molecular explanation for the higher incidence of skin cancer in redheads.

By | November 2, 2012

Wikimedia, Bill KuffreyFair-skinned redheads are at a higher risk of sunburn, which at first blush seems like it might explain their higher risk of developing skin cancer and premature skin aging. But according to a study published this week (October 31) in Nature, that’s not the whole story. Instead, the version of melanin that gives gingers their unique coloring also plays an independent role in the development of melanoma.

“There is something about the redhead genetic background that is behaving in a carcinogenic fashion, independent of UV,” David Fisher, a cancer biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the study, told Nature. “It means that shielding from UV would not be enough.”

Non-redheads carry a darker form of melanin, called eumelanin, while those with lighter complexion and red hair carry a pigment known as pheomelanin, which is less protective against the sun’s damaging UV rays. To understand how these pigments, which differ by a single mutation in a gene called MC1R, affect one’s risk of developing skin cancer, Fisher and his colleagues investigated three different mouse models—one representing ginger complexion, one for olive-colored skin, and an albino group that totally lacked the enzyme to produce melanin. The researchers genetically engineered all three groups of mice to develop benign moles more readily, and quickly saw the gingers begin to develop melanomas—even before the researchers had a chance to expose the mice to UV light. With UV light apparently not a factor, the researchers concluded that the pheomelanin pigment itself—or the process of producing it—must be causing the melanomas.

However, the finding, while surprising and interesting, is probably not a common cause of skin cancer in people, Eugene Healy, a clinical dermatologist at the University of Southampton, UK, told Nature. Indeed, most human melanomas develop on sun-exposed areas of skin, Healy said. “You almost never see melanoma, for example, on the buttocks.”

“One of the most important messages from this is to avoid an assumption that this takes UV off the hook,” Fisher agreed, noting that one way UV radiation might promote skin cancer is by worsening pheomelanin’s carcinogenic ability. 

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Avatar of: ironjustice

ironjustice

Posts: 28

November 2, 2012

Red hair pigment contains the metal iron.
"The iron pigment is probably the major pigment of human red hair."

Iron and cancer are very closely linked.
"Iron encourages the formation of cancer"

Avatar of: BobD

BobD

Posts: 20

November 5, 2012

Red hair is red due to the presence pheomelanin, which is itself red in color.  The color of pheomelanin is not due to the presence of iron.

Avatar of: TB103

TB103

Posts: 2

November 5, 2012

 

It's funny how people that report this story, and even the authors of the study, continue to ignore that this study is yet another reason to believe that the sun is not the killer it's purported to be. Sure, overexposure can cause a slight increase in risk. But, as this study alludes to, melanomas are primarily caused by genetics. The author even notes that "mutations that drive the disease are only rarely related to UV damage." But then he goes on to talk about sunscreens and protection from UV light....It's become quite apparent to me, with the emerging evidence on vitamin D and cancer prevention, that extreme anti-sun messages are leading to far more cancers (yes, even skin cancers) than they are preventing. It's time to embrace moderate UV exposure as a crucial aspect of a healthy lifestyle.

Also, Dr. Healy's conclusion is either a bold-faced lie or he is a very misinformed doctor. It is very common knowledge (google it) that melanomas do often occur on areas that aren't regularly exposed to sunlight. Here's just one reliable source:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin-cancer/DS00190/DSECTION=symptoms . Indeed, it appears that Dr. Healy is a prime example of the problem.

Avatar of: TB103

TB103

Posts: 2

November 5, 2012

 

It's funny how people that report this story, and even the authors of the study, continue to ignore that this study is yet another reason to believe that the sun is not the killer it's purported to be. Sure, overexposure can cause a slight increase in risk. But, as this study alludes to, melanomas are primarily caused by genetics. The author even notes that "mutations that drive the disease are only rarely related to UV damage." But then he goes on to talk about sunscreens and protection from UV light....It's become quite apparent to me, with the emerging evidence on vitamin D and cancer prevention, that extreme anti-sun messages are leading to far more cancers (yes, even skin cancers) than they are preventing. It's time to embrace moderate UV exposure as a crucial aspect of a healthy lifestyle.

Also, Dr. Healy's conclusion is either a bold-faced lie or he is a very misinformed doctor. It is very common knowledge (google it) that melanomas do often occur on areas that aren't regularly exposed to sunlight. Here's just one reliable source:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin-cancer/DS00190/DSECTION=symptoms . Indeed, it appears that Dr. Healy is a prime example of the problem.

Avatar of: ironjustice

ironjustice

Posts: 28

Replied to a comment from BobD made on November 5, 2012

November 10, 2012

If you give too much iron to someone , be it animal or man , their hair turns red.

You can say the red isn't due to the iron BUT as evidenced iron does turn the hair red AND breaking down the pigment , scientifically , of bird feathers and red hair leaves the metal iron. 

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