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Why redheads are at risk for melanoma

By September 23, 2017 April 11th, 2019 No Comments

A form of skin cancer, studies point to the fact that melanoma kills over 2,000 people each year in the UK. Besides, redheads are 10-100 times more prone to this form of cancer. This deadly form of cancer has a strange but true connect with one’s red hair but this is the link between people getting melanoma.

What is melanoma?

It is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It forms under the surface of the skin and spreads to other body parts. It is identified as an irregularly shaped or coloured mole with raised edges. It often changes its colour too. If you spot one such growth on your body, have it checked by a skin specialist immediately.


When cells develop abnormally in the skin, it results in melanoma. Its risk increases when one exposes oneself to artificial UV light and natural light. Other causes include:

Sun exposure leading to freckles

Red hair

Genetics or family history of melanoma

Five or several atypical moles

Sun spots or age spots

Brown skin marks present at birth

Pale skin that doesn’t tan easily and light-coloured eyes


Female gender–women are more prone

Accepting an organ transplant

Why redheads are more prone to melanoma:

Though it was known for many years that redheads are more susceptible to developing skin cancer, its cause is only known now. Researchers have found a genetic mutation called Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R) gene. From this gene come MC1R proteins that pepper the surface of cells that produce pigments, known as melanocytes. These proteins are instrumental in natural pigmentation, protecting the sun from UV rays and tanning.

Once the MC1R receptor is activated, it sets off several chemical reactions within melanocytes that lead to the development of eumelanin, a pigment. This pigment causes people to have dark complexion and hair and UV protection. However, redheads and fair-skinned people carry variants of the MCR1 gene, known as MC1R-RHC. In turn, the variants produce a pigment called pheomelanin, which prevents skin from tanning and does not offer protection from DNA damage due to UV light exposure. It’s important to point out here that the variants of pheomelanin increase people’s risk for skin cancer, including melanoma.

Reports of women diagnosed with melanoma have been increasing for decades now in the United States. This is disturbing because though it contributes to just one percent of skin cancers, melanoma causes several deaths due to skin cancer.

How to reduce melanoma risk:

Researchers found that the modification process, better known as palmitoylation, affects MC1R. By increasing its content in MC1R proteins, it actually reduced melanoma risk. This happens because during the process of palmitoylation, the addition of fatty acids changes proteins. This not only affects protein functioning in the body but also affects cell functioning.

If you have any of the risk factors for melanoma, take the maximum care of yourself, particularly if you are in the glare of sunlight for long periods.