Secret 'red hair gene' increases skin cancer risk
It's long been known that people with red hair have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. But now a new study by investigators from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute suggests that one in every four people in the UK carries a "silent" red hair gene that significantly raises their risk of sun-related skin cancer.
The secret "ginger gene" is thought to endanger carriers by exposing them to an additional 21 years of sunlight, compared to people who do not have the gene.
While individuals with two copies of the MCR1 gene will often have red hair, fair skin and freckles, those with one copy may not even know they are at increased risk of malignant melanoma and are less likely to take extra care in the sun as a result.
Despite not looking like your typical "easy burners", the researchers say these carriers were found to have 42% more sun-associated mutations in their cancers than non-carriers.
Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Communications, the team said "All people, not just pale redheads, should be careful in the sun."
Dr Julie Sharp from Cancer Research UK said: "For all of us the best way to protect skin when the sun is strong is to spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm and to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen helps protect the parts you can't cover - use one with at least SPF15 and four or more stars, put on plenty and reapply regularly."
The Cancer Research UK website has further information on skin types to help determine your risk of sunburn.