Red Hair Gene Variation Drives Up Skin Cancer Mutations

People with red hair, pale skin, and freckles have long been advised to take extra precautions when out in the sun. New research has supported these concerns by proving the MC1R gene variant associated with red hair was directly linked to a higher number of genetic mutations in skin cancers.

People with red hair, pale skin, and freckles have long been advised to take extra precautions when out in the sun. New research has supported these concerns by proving the MC1R gene variant associated with red hair was directly linked to a higher number of genetic mutations in skin cancers.

The study reported the burden of mutations was comparable to an additional 21 years of sun exposure in folks who don’t possess MC1R.

Research had shown that even a single copy of the MC1R gene variant increased the number of mutations in melanoma skin cancer — red-headed people are extra sensitive since they have two copies of the gene.

While not a particularly uncommon notion, this was the first time a gene had been proven to be associated with skin cancers with more mutations.

The research team had analyzed publicly available datasets of tumor DNA sequences collected from more than 400 people and discovered an average of 42% more sun-associated mutations in tumors from people carrying the gene variant.

David Adams, MD, joint lead researcher, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said in a news release, “Unexpectedly, we also showed that 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. This is one of the first examples of a common genetic profile having a large impact on a cancer genome and could help better identify people at higher risk of developing skin cancer.”

Additionally, reports showed the MC1R gene variations also raised the level of other mutations in the tumors, thus suggesting that biological processes exist in cancer development in the patients having the MC1R variation.

While more research is underway, experts caution red-heads to protect themselves from strong sun exposure. “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.”