A look at melanoma’s biggest risk factors: red hair, fair skin, many moles …
Having many moles is a leading risk factor for melanoma, an often-fatal skin cancer that kills about 10,000 Americans every year.
Melanoma begins in pre-existing moles in about 30 percent of cases, and other big risk factors are red hair and fair skin.
This information comes from a study conducted by the Melanoma Genetics Consortium (GenoMEL), at the University of Leeds. Professors Julia Newton Bishop and Tim Bishop led the study, which examined over 10,000 people, some with melanoma.
To zero in on which genes were related to melanoma development, researchers studied 300,000 variations of the genetic makeup of the 10,000 subjects. Results appear in Nature Genetics.
The researchers uncovered some genetic patterns. It was no surprise that people with fair skin and red hair, along with skin that burns easily, turned out to be at highest risk for melanoma.
The people in the study who had this malignancy were more likely to have genes that were closely tied to having freckles and red hair.
But something else turned up as well. Professor Tim Bishop says, “We had known for some time that people with many moles are at increased risk of melanoma.”
However, a definite link was discovered “between some genes on chromosomes 9 and 22 and increased risk of melanoma,” he continues.
These genes had nothing to do with color of skin. Instead, the genes had an effect on how many moles an individual had.
The report also pointed out something that most people do not know: Chronic exposure to the sun, such as what people who work outdoor jobs experience, does not pose a significant risk for melanoma.
Rather, it is intermittent exposure to the sun’s rays, such as what’s experienced when people who normally stay indoors vacation a few times a year in the tropics and spend a lot of time outside.
In fact, says Professor Bishop, skin cancer risk between people who work outdoors and people who hardly get any sun, is negligible.
But what he has no doubt about is the connection between certain genes and a “lifestyle of significant sun exposure” when it comes to creating the biggest risk for this disease.
But it must be emphasized once again, that having many moles is a significant risk factor for melanoma, and this position is supported by the SunSmart campaign from Cancer Research UK:
Men and women with many moles are more at risk for getting melanoma, and, so are people with fair skin and red hair. People with these traits must take extra caution.