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Gene for red hair linked to melanoma, US study finds

The gene responsible for red hair also leaves a person up to 100 times more susceptible to melanoma, scientists have shown. Credit: PA

People with red hair may be up to a 100 times more susceptible to the worst form of skin cancer, according to scientists at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

A particular gene mutation that is responsible for colouring hair red leaves DNA in skin cells more prone to damage by sunlight, the study found.

Reported in the journal Molecular Cell, researchers said that the findings could lead to studies into new melanoma treatments, or ways of identifying highly at-risk individuals.

Around 13,000 Britons are diagnosed with melanoma each year and more than 2,000 a year die from the disease.


Symptoms of melanoma

The first sign of a melanoma is often the appearance of a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole.

Normal moles are usually a single colour, round or oval in shape and not larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.

Melanomas are more likely to have an irregular shape, be more than one colour, and are often larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter. A melanoma may also be itchy and may bleed.

A good way to tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma is to use the ABCDE checklist:

  • A stands for asymmetrical – melanomas have two very different halves and are an irregular shape.
  • B stands for border – unlike a normal mole, melanomas have a notched or ragged border.
  • C stands for colours – melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours.
  • D stands for diameter – unlike most moles, melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.
  • E stands for enlargement or evolution – a mole that changes characteristics and size over time is more likely to be a melanoma.

Melanomas can appear anywhere on your body, but the back, legs, arms and face are the most common locations. Sometimes, they may develop underneath a nail.


What is Melanoma?

  • Melanoma is a cancer that usually starts in the skin, either in a mole or in normal-looking skin. About half of all melanomas start in normal-looking skin.
  • The number of people developing melanoma is continuing to rise. More than 10,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma each year.
  • Melanoma is more common in women, particularly young women. In the UK it’s the most common cancer in people aged 15–34.
  • In women the most common place to develop melanoma is on the legs; in men it’s on the chest and the back.

Skin cancer statistics

  • In 2010, 12,818 people in the UK were diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer.
  • In the same year there were 2,203 deaths from malignant melanoma skin cancer in the UK.
  • In 2005-2009, 88.2% of adult skin cancer patients (83.6% of men and 91.6% of women) in England survived their cancer for five years or more.
  • In 2010 around 100,000 people were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer and there were 546 deaths from non melanoma skin cancer.
  • In 2010, there were 12,818 new cases of malignant melanoma in the UK.
  • 6,201 (48%) in men and 6,617 (52%) in women, giving a male: female ratio of around 10:11.1-4.
  • Malignant melanoma incidence rates have overall increased in Great Britain since the mid 1970s

Brits 'ignoring' skin cancer warnings

More than half of Brits want a suntan despite strong messages about the increased risk of skin cancer, health experts have warned.

More Brits are soaking up the sun, health experts have warned. Credit: PA

62 per cent of Brits said that they found tanned skin more attractive than paler skin, compared to 56 per cent of people responding to a similar survey by the association five years ago.

The results revealed that younger people are less knowledgeable about some aspects of skin cancer despite increased education on the disease in recent decades.

A third (32%) of people in their twenties perceived a tan to be a sign of good health compared with 21 per cent across all age groups.

Three times more men than women incorrectly believed that a base tan will protect against sun burn and sun damage (65 per cent of men compared to just 22 per cent of women).

80 per cent of people infrequently or never check their skin for signs of skin cancer.

Furthermore, 69 per cent admitted they have no idea what to look for even if they were to check their skin.


Report: Half of Brits confused about skin cancer

Half of Britons think that their skin is darker than it actually is, putting them at risk of developing skin cancer, according to new research by the British Association of Dermatologists.

Brits soaking up the sun are unaware of the dangers of skin cancer. Credit: PA

The statistics are being released to mark the start of Sun Awareness Week on Monday May 6th.

1,350 people attending the organisations 2012 Mole and Sun Advice Roadshow were asked about skin cancer and sun safety.

Only 50 per cent of people correctly identified their own skin colour, which was then assessed by a Dermatologist, from a list of options, with 48 per cent thinking their skin was darker.

Access to skin cancer drugs backed by health watchdog

Patients with an advanced form of skin cancer were given new hope today after the health watchdog recommended that two life-extending treatments should be available on the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said that drugs ipilimumab and vemurafenib can be used for the treatment of advanced malignant melanoma - the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

The prognosis for advanced melanoma is very poor, and those who are diagnosed often have just months to live.

But now many patients in England and Wales will be able to access the life-extending treatments, Nice said.

Report: Sunbeds raise risk of all skin cancers

Researchers have called for tighter regulations around the use of sunbeds after a study found that indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of skin cancer - particularly in younger users.

Sunbeds could be a risk factor for other skin cancers Credit: PA Wire

While sunbed use is already associated with malignant melanoma - the most dangerous type of skin cancer - academics have also linked indoor tanning to non-melanoma skin cancers.

Sunbed users have a 67% higher risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer and a 29% increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma compared with non users, according to the study which has been published on

The researchers, from the University of California in San Francisco, said sunbed users account for 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year in the US.

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