‘Ginger gene’ raises your melanoma risk even if you keep out of the sun

Carriers of the ‘ginger gene’ are more susceptible to melanoma, according to new research. And, although red hair and freckles are common in carriers, you don’t need to have them to be at risk — one in four of us carry the gene.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna in Austria said the link between the gene — known as the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) — and melanoma remained regardless of sun exposure. It is the most lethal form of skin cancer, killing about 2,000 people in Britain every year.

The research, which has been published in the online journal JAMA Dermatology, involved 991 melanoma patients and 800 control subjects who did not have the disease. It found a significant statistical difference in the rates of melanoma.

Dr Judith Wendt, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Carriers of MC1R variants were at increased melanoma risk independent of their sun exposure.

‘Further studies are required to elucidate the causes of melanoma development in these individuals.’

Melanoma development without sunlight exposure has only recently been observed for the first time in studies on mice. Previous research has suggested that carries of MCR1 variants are 100 times more likely to this form of skin cancer.

Instant analysis
These eye-catching results do suggest an association between MC1R and melanoma. This could have a significant impact on the treatment, prevention and screening options for skin cancer. However, it is a small study group and, as the researchers say, more work is needed to understand why this gene may increase melanoma risk. MB
Research score: 4/5