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Redheads May Face Higher Risk of Melanoma, Even Without Sun Exposure
Date:10/31/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- New research in mice suggests that redheaded people may be more susceptible to the dangerous type of skin cancer known as melanoma, even if they don't spend a lot of time in the sun.

The findings haven't been confirmed in humans. Still, researchers discovered that a genetic mutation that normally slightly boosts the risk of melanoma has a much greater effect in mice with reddish fur.

Should redheaded people panic or simply accept the higher risk?

Neither, said study author Dr. David Fisher, chief of the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "We don't believe that this exonerates the sun in any way. People should be absolutely careful about sun exposure."

Pigmentation -- the color of skin and hair -- probably evolved to protect animals from the damage of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, Fisher pointed out. Fairer pigments probably helped humans survive in higher and lower latitudes, where the threat of sun exposure isn't as high, he explained.

But now, people of different skin pigments are dispersed around the globe, and fairer-haired people live in places where they get lots of sun exposure.

In the new study, researchers tinkered with the genetic makeup of mice, giving them a mutant form of a gene that boosts the risk of melanoma. None of the mice were exposed to any ultraviolet radiation, to remove the effect of exposure. The researchers wanted to see if the added risk differed, depending solely on their fur color.

It did.

About 10 percent of mice without red fur developed melanoma, and it took months, Fisher said. By contrast, at least 50 percent of the red-furred mice with the genetic mutation developed the skin cancer, and it took much less time for that to happen.

In contrast, albino mice with the genetic mutation didn't develop melanoma at all, he said. That su
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