A study published this month in the journal Nature is suggesting the mechanism by which red-haired individuals with fair skin have a genetically higher risk of melanoma regardless of any UV exposure.
“There is something about the redhead genetic background that is behaving in a carcinogenic fashion, independent of UV,” Dr. David Fisher, a cancer biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who led the study, told Nature. “It means that shielding from UV would not be enough.”
The study looked to examine the different form of melanin produced by red-haired indivduals — a yellowish-form of melanin that is much less photoprotective than darker melanin produced in darker skin types.
According to the Nature article, “For a number of years there have been hints that UV exposure alone might not account entirely for the risk of melanoma in redheads. Fisher and his team wanted to investigate the molecular backdrop for this increased risk. The researchers looked at how melanomas develop in mouse models of olive-skinned, ginger and albino colouring. The last group had the same genetic background as the dark-skinned mice but lacked the enzyme needed to synthesize melanin. The researchers also tweaked each group’s genes to be more susceptible to developing benign moles, which Fisher says is a probable first step in the development of melanoma.”
The article continued, “The researchers planned to expose the mice to UV light and monitor differences in melanoma development. But before they got to that part of the experiment, about half the ginger mice had developed melanomas.”
Melanoma is more common in indoor workers than in outdoor workers, according to the World Health Organization and many studies, and occurs most often on parts of the body that do not receive regular UV exposure. So its relationship with sunlight is not straight-forward.
Fisher is far from being a UV exposure fan. He has aggressively promoted the theory that UV exposure and tanning are addictive in much the same way as narcotic drug use is addictive, despite the fact that UV exposure is natural and clearly is an intended human attraction in much the same way as food, water and air are natural attractions.
But in the redhead study, Nature reported that “Fisher says that he and his team were shocked. ‘The first thing we needed to do was bring a UV meter into the animal room to be sure there wasn’t some inadvertent UV being radiated out of the light bulbs or something,’ he says. ‘And it turned out there was not.’
In promoting the Nature study, Fisher and his team have very obviously attempted not to affect the sales of sunscreens as a result of their study. “One of the most important messages from this is to avoid an assumption that this takes UV off the hook,” Fisher told Nature.
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