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'Ginger gene' linked to skin cancer

14 July 2016 08:09

The research focused on skin cancer

The research focused on skin cancer

Inherited skin cancer risks are being linked with a "ginger gene" - something that has never been done before.

Redheads are traditionally associated with a heightened danger of getting sunburnt with their fair skin. Red-haired people have two types of the MC1R gene.

But the British study finds that non-redheads who possess just one "ginger gene" are more prone to getting skin cancer.

Just one copy of MC1R can raise the amount of genetic mutations linked with skin cancer's deadliest variant, malignant melanoma.

Key stats

• Scientists claim that carrying an MC1R gene can be as bad for people for exposing themselves to skin cancer as 21 additional years in the sun

• There is a bigger proportion of redheads in Britain than elsewhere in the world

• Around one in 16 Britons (6%) are redheads

• The amount of redheads across the planet number between 1-2%

Holiday plans

Skin cancer need not be the end to travellers' overseas holiday ambitions.

Providing their diagnosis has not been made within the past four weeks, they can enjoy peace of mind with skin cancer-related travel insurance.

Policyholders will be covered for round-the-clock emergency medical help, wherever they are around the globe while they are on holiday.

The study

The Cambridgeshire-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute team studied over 400 samples of tumours from melanoma sufferers.

It found that non-red-haired people with some freckles and pale skin are "easy burners", although they may not immediately look like them.

Cancer patients with the MC1R variant have 42% extra sun-linked mutations than the rest of the population, leaving them particularly susceptible to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

This is because MC1R impacts on the kind of melanin skin pigment produced.

What the experts say

Joint lead author David Adams says such a link has never been made before. Dr Adams says the team was surprised to find that just one 'ginger gene' copy could make people more susceptible to skin cancer.

Fellow lead author Tim Bishop says that the study could help expert understanding of how such cancers develop. Prof Bishop adds that the study involved international collaboration.

Nature Communications has published the results.