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New Gene Research Shows Potential of Melanoma in Dark-eyed, Easy Tanners

Posted: April 24, 2009

Showing the importance of offering indiscriminate sun skin care to everyone, new research shows those formerly thought less likely to develop melanoma—dark-eyed, dark-haired people that tan easily—can still be at an increased risk of the disease.

If you have dark eyes, dark hair and tan easily, you might think you don't have to worry much about melanoma. But new research shows that variations of a particular gene can raise the risk of this deadly skin cancer, even in people whose ability to tan may make them appear to be at low risk.

Having a variant of the melanocortin-1 receptor gene (MCIR) puts people who have dark hair, dark eyes and who tan easily at more than twice the risk of getting melanoma as those with similar complexions who don't have the variant. "Traditionally, a clinician might look at a person with dark hair who did not sunburn easily and classify them as lower risk for melanoma, but that may not be true for all people in the population," said Peter Kanetsky, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a co-author of research on the topic. "Just because you tolerate sun exposure fairly well doesn't mean that you're not at increased risk for melanoma."<>p

The findings were presented recently at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Denver.

The researchers examined 779 people with melanoma at the Pigmented Lesion Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania and 325 people who did not have melanoma. They analyzed the participants' MCIR variant status and had them fill out questionnaires about sun exposure, ability to tan and their physical appearance.