‘Red-hair’ Gene Raises Skin Cancer Risk
Heredity is complicated, but if you think back to that high school science class, you may remember a thing or two about dominant and recessive genes. For example, you may recall that a person with red hair inherited one “red hair” gene from each parent. That gene, called the MC1R gene, alters the production of the pigment melanin that determines hair, eye, and skin color. That’s why people with red hair usually have light-colored eyes, freckles, and pale skin that burns easily in the sun.
According to a recent study, it may be that the individual’s genetic make-up—rather than his or her light skin alone—that increases cancer risk from exposure to the sun’s UV rays. The study showed that people who carry just one recessive MC1R gene—people with dark, not red hair—are also at increased risk for cancer.
Researchers also determined that the MC1R gene not only increases risk for skin cancer related to sun exposure, but also increases the risk for tumors that are not related to sun damage. According to one of the study’s lead researchers, "people with only a single copy of the gene variant still have a much higher number of tumor mutations than the rest of the population."