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Unexpected Factor Contributes to Melanoma Risk in Red-Haired, Fair-Skinned Individuals

Posted: November 5, 2012

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Suspecting that the red-pigment-associated risk might be chemically related to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS)—unstable oxygen-containing molecules that can damage cells—the researchers examined skin from both red and albino redhead mice. They discovered elevated levels of a type of DNA damage typically produced by ROS in skin of red mice but not in albino redheads, supporting oxidative damage as the mechanism behind red-pigment-associated melanoma formation.

While this result suggests antioxidant treatments may be able to reduce this risk, Fisher cautions that further research is needed to identify safe and effective ways to exploit this knowledge. "Antioxidant treatments are not highly predictable in their actions and in some instances have even been seen to increase rather than prevent oxidative damage. Therefore we need to determine how to control this pathway safely and effectively," he says. "There are additional key questions to investigate, such as whether these findings also may pertain to people with, for example, fair skin and dark hair.

"Right now we're excited to have a new clue to help better understand this mystery behind melanoma, which we have always hoped could be a preventable disease," he adds. "The risk for people with this skin type has not changed, but now we know that blocking UV radiation—which continues to be essential—may not be enough. It will be important for these individuals to be aware of changes in their skin and never hesitate to have something checked by a dermatologist, even if they have scrupulously protected themselves from sun exposure, which we continue to encourage. About six out of seven melanomas will be cured if they are found early, so we need to heighten awareness and caution."

From, Oct. 31, 2012