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Skin Cancer May Be Genetic

Posted: October 13, 2009

Researchers studying family connections to skin cancer have found that if a twin, sibiling or parent has or has had skin cancer, a person may be more susceptible, as well.

Want to reduce your risk of skin cancer? Wear sunscreen, of course. But two new studies suggest that choosing your relatives carefully could also be helpful. One found that having an identical twin with melanoma increased a person's own risk of developing the disease much more than having a fraternal twin with this type of skin cancer. The other found that having a sibling or parent with one of several different types of non-melanoma skin cancer increased risk as well.

Several studies have suggested melanoma and other skin cancers run in families, but it can be difficult to tease out the difference between the influence of genes and environment. In the Australian study, Sri N. Shekar of the University of Queensland in Brisbane and his colleagues attempted to do so by looking at twin pairs in which at least one sibling had been diagnosed with melanoma.

They searched through thousands of cases of melanoma reported in Queensland and New South Wales and found 125 twin pairs. In four of the 27 identical twin pairs, both had melanoma, while three of the 98 fraternal twin pairs had both been diagnosed with the deadly skin cancer.

Based on these numbers, having an identical twin with melanoma increased a person's own risk of the disease nearly tenfold, while melanoma associated with having a non-identical twin with the disease was roughly doubled.