Link Between Red Hair and Increased Skin Cancer Risk

Researchers may have discovered the link between red hair and cancer risk, shedding light on why redheads are more prone to developing melanoma. The research could offer a new way of protecting people from the disease.

People with red hair have unique variants of a protein called Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R), which plays an important role in pigmentation. The way in which MC1R works is affected by a process called palmitoylation.

In tests on mice, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found that the risk of developing melanoma is reduced if the palmitoylation process is enhanced. Palmitoylation was increased in mice using a specific molecule. The mice were exposed to UV light, and it was found that increasing palmitoylation prevented melanoma from developing.

“Up until now, our understanding of the molecular biology of melanoma genesis lacks explanations for how MC1R is affected by UV radiation, why redheads are more prone to melanoma, and whether the activity of red hair colour variants could be restored for therapeutic benefit,” said study author Dr Rutao Cui.

Redheads make up around three percent of the world’s population, yet they suffer from a disproportionate amount of skin cancer. A lot of public awareness exists to promote the importance of sun protection – especially in Australia and especially for light-skinned people, who are at a higher skin cancer risk.

Researchers hope that the findings of the study, published in Nature, will allow development of a pharmacological prevention strategy for red-headed people to protect their skin and let them enjoy the sun.



Boston University School of Medicine. (6 September, 2017.) Researchers discover why redheads are more prone to melanoma. EurekAlert.

Learn more about skin cancer medicine in primary care at the next Skin Cancer Certificate Courses:

Skin Cancer Certificate Courses in Australia

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