Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Red Hair Pigment May Increase Skin Cancer Risk

According to a new study, redheads may be more susceptible to getting skin cancer, even if they don’t spend a lot of time in the sun.

Dr. David Fisher, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, first uncovered the link between hair pigment and melanoma last fall. Dr. Fisher and his team of researchers tested mice and found that at least half of mice with red fur developed melanoma, even though none of them had been exposed to any ultraviolet (UV) radiation. By comparison, only about 10 percent of mice without the redhead gene developed melanoma. 

Now researchers are asking why the body’s red hair pigment, known as pheomelanin, might create an increased risk for skin cancer.  

In Dr. Fisher’s new paper, published in the journal BioEssays, he proposes that pheomelanin could leave cells more vulnerable to DNA damage, thus increasing the risk for melanoma. Through research, Dr. Fisher and his team hope to figure out a way to prevent future cases of skin cancer.

"We are focusing on what the possibilities are, what the directions for new research are and how that could impact treatment," said Dr. Fisher. "In the mouse studies, it was possible to completely remove UV and there was still a major incidence of melanoma that was attributable to the red pigment."

Despite his research, Fisher says that UV rays still play a strong role in the development of skin cancer.

"I want to emphasize that we strongly believe UV is a contributor to melanoma, and UV may actually amplify this red pigment phenomenon," Dr. Fisher said. "It still is absolutely crucial for people to avoid sun exposure."

While all individuals should be careful in the sun, redheads should take additional precautions. This includes visiting a dermatologist for frequent body checks – even if there is no family history of skin cancer. For those with a family history of melanoma, they should visit their dermatologists every three months. This is crucial since melanoma could form on a part of the body that is not touched by UV rays.

Redheads should also avoid being in the sun for long hours and use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 when they know they’re going to be in the sun.  

Greenville Dermatology’s revolutionary new MelaFind device can help detect melanoma at early, treatable stages. To schedule a skin exam or to speak with a dermatologist, please call us at (864) 242-5872.

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