Redheads at risk for melanoma even if they stay out of the sun

Redheads at risk for melanoma even if they stay out of the sun

A new study says redheads are at an increased risk for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, even if they avoid prolonged exposure to the sun.

To find out why, scientists tested genetically altered mice with red hair pigment called pheomelanin to see if there was a link between the pigment and cancer.

Results, published in the May journal BioEssays, showed that more than half of the red haired mice were diagnosed with melanoma even when not exposed to UV radiation. And only 10 percent of them without red fur contracted melanoma.

So what does this mean for humans?

Researchers hope by finding out why this pigment increases the risk of cancer, they can better help with prevention in humans. They did note that animal studies can fail to have results applicable in humans.

Dr. David Fisher, the study’s co-author, explained why this pigment makes the skin more susceptible to an incresed risk for developing melanoma. The pigment may be creating unbalanced molecules in the skin that can damage cells and may remove vital antioxidants that help prevent damage to skin cells.

Both of these factors are negative effects that can lead to the development of melanoma. Fisher does not diminish the fact that UV rays play a large role in skin cancer risk, but he does believe if they can reverse these damaging effects, there may be other preventive measures that can be taken for humans.

“I want to emphasize that we strongly believe UV is a contributor to melanoma, and UV may actually amplify this red pigment phenomenon,” Fisher said in a statement. “It still is absolutely crucial for people to avoid sun exposure.”

Protect your skin
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following tips for people with any hair or skin type to protect their skin from harmful UV rays:

  • Seek shade during the day, when possible
  • Protect exposed skin by wearing appropriate clothing
  • Wear a hat to shade your face, head, ears, and neck
  • Wear sunglasses with 100 percent blockage of both UVA and UVB rays
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, with both UVA and UVB protection
  • Avoid indoor tanning

Dr. Jeanine Downie, a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation, said in a statement, that redheads should take additional precautions for melanoma prevention.

“Redheads should get more frequent body checks,” Downie said. “If they have no family history of skin cancer, they should still be checked at least twice a year, rather than the annual check we recommend for everyone else. If they have a family history of skin cancer, they should be checked every three months.”

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Sarah Scroggins
Sarah Scroggins

Sarah Scroggins, health enews editor, is manager of social media at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She has more than 9 years of public relations and marketing experience with a Masters degree in Communications with an emphasis in PR. Sarah loves spending time with her husband and her two pups.