American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Press Releases

Dark Hair? Don’t Burn? Your Genes May Still Put You at Risk for Melanoma


April 21, 2009

DENVER - New genetic research suggests that the traditional risk factors for melanoma may not be as helpful in predicting risk in all people as previously thought, according to data presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting 2009.

"Traditionally, a clinician might look at a person with dark hair who did not sunburn easily and classify them as lower risk for melanoma, but that may not be true for all people in the population," said Peter Kanetsky, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kanetsky and his colleagues have identified that genetic variants in MC1R could help to predict melanoma risk in people who are not usually classified as high risk. While this link previously has been observed, Kanetsky said it is now time to begin discussing genetic factors as part of the overall melanoma risk model.

For the current study, researchers analyzed 779 patients with melanoma from the Pigmented Lesion Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania and compared them with 325 healthy control patients.

Overall, the presence of certain MC1R variants was associated with a more than two-fold risk of melanoma, but this risk was largely confined to those patients who would not usually be considered to be at elevated risk.

Although those with dark hair are not thought to be at increased risk for melanoma, if they had dark hair and also inherited certain MC1R genetic variants, their risk for melanoma increased 2.4-fold. However, no elevated risk was associated with these same MC1R variants in those with blond or red hair.

MC1R was also associated with increased risk among those with dark eye color (3.2-fold increase), who did not freckle (8-fold increase), who tanned after repeated sun exposure (2.4 fold increase) or who tanned immediately without burning (9.5-fold increase). People with these characteristics are usually thought to be at reduced risk for melanoma.

Kanetsky said a clinical screening test for MC1R is not yet available.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and nearly 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

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