Knowing that redheads are at higher risk of skin cancer is not a revelation. We’re pale, freckly, and extremely likely to sunburn – tell us something we don’t know.
But for the first time, scientists have now directly linked the MC1R ginger gene to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge and Leeds University found that the connection between MC1R and skin cancer is so strong, that’s it’s estimated that it’s the equivalent of redheads spending 21 years in the sun. And that’s before they’ve endured any UV exposure or sun damage.
Non-redheads aren’t totally safe, either. While natural gingers carry two variants of the MC1R gene, there are ‘secret gingers’ out there who only carry one variant, and don’t get to boast about having red hair. However, simply having this one variant of MC1R is enough to vastly increase their risk of skin cancer, too.
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This important research explains why red-haired people have to be so careful about covering up in strong sun. It also underlines that it isn’t just people with red hair who need to protect themselves from too much sun. People who tend to burn rather than tan, or who have fair skin, hair or eyes, or who have freckles or moles are also at higher risk.”
Melanoma is a cancerous growth that develops when there is unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells most likely caused by UV exposure. It is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK, and occurs between 10 and 100 times more often in gingers than others.
Always wear sunscreen, redheads!