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Even Sun-Dodging Redheads Face High Cancer Risk

Pigment behind their coloring may be melanoma threat
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2012 7:18 AM CDT
Even Sun-Dodging Redheads Face High Cancer Risk
Redheads may face a higher melanoma risk even if they avoid the sun.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Staying covered up may not be enough. Redheads face a higher risk of melanoma even if they stay out of the sun, a study suggests. That's because the pigment that causes red hair may itself contribute to the deadliest type of skin cancer, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Even if you're good about avoiding UV rays—you know, putting on sunscreen, wearing protective clothes and being careful at the beach—it's still possible this red pigment is related to carcinogenic activity anyway," says the lead author.

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In the study, researchers were planning on exposing black, albino, and "redheaded" mice to UV rays—but before they could, half the redheaded mice got melanoma over the course of a year. The others had much lower rates of the disease over a longer period. Skin samples suggested the reddish-yellow pigment pheomelanin was at fault, while darker-toned eumelanin may actually have worked against the disease. Researchers hope eventually to isolate antioxidants that can be put in sunscreens to fight pheomelanin's potential effects. "To show this in these animals is very, very convincing," said a scientist who reviewed the study. "This will be a landmark study on the importance of this pigment." (Read more redhead stories.)

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