Redheads, or rather those who carry a genetic variant common to redheads, have a significantly increased chance of developing melanoma than the general population.

Redheads Skin Cancer Risk

Scientists who published a study in the Natural Communications journal have determined that those who carry the gene variant associated with red hair and freckles have genetic mutations that cause cancer to occur at a rate 42% greater than those without the allele.

“It has been known for a while that a person with red hair has an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer, but this is the first time that the gene has been proven to be associated with skin cancers with more mutations,” said David Adams, who co-led the study at Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The research suggests that an individual who has the gene mutation – the MC1R gene (melanocortin 1 receptor) – is likely to develop the cancer-causing mutations at about the same rate as an individual who has spent 21 more years in the sun, or rather, is 21 years older.

Another statistic the research produced is that while redheads make up 1-2% of the global population, they comprise 16% of melanoma patients in the world.

“This … explains why red-haired people have to be so careful about covering up in strong sun,” said Julie Sharp of the charity Cancer Research UK, which co-funded the research.

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