Redheads `face higher risk of skin cancer`

Melbourne: People with pale skin and red hair may be more prone to developing a deadly form of skin cancer regardless of whether they spend time in the sun or not, researchers have claimed.

Not only is this group more vulnerable to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, but a study in mice has shown the pigment that gives hair a red hue may in itself have cancer-causing effects, according to a report.

“We studied melanoma formation in ‘redheaded’ mice and discovered that the red pigment had an ability to promote melanoma formation, even in the absence of ultraviolet radiation exposure,” the Age quoted co-author David Fisher, cancer centre director at Massachusetts General Hospital, as saying.

“This was a surprising result for us, because we expected that fair-skinned people get melanoma due to weak protection from sunlight and ultraviolet radiation.

“However the results suggest that even without UV exposure, the red pigment may contribute to melanoma formation by damaging healthy cells,” he said.

Light-skinned redheads with freckles and an inability to tan have trouble producing the black-grown pigment eumelanin, which absorbs harmful UV rays - instead producing the red-yellow pigment pheomelanin which provides a weak UV shield.
In lab studies using dark, red and albino mice, Fisher and a team discovered that melanoma occurred more frequently in the red mice than the other two groups, regardless of whether they were exposed to UV or not.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.