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NCI Cancer Center News

Red hair may increase melanoma risk

  • Posted: August 23, 2013

A person’s skin pigment, which determines hair color and skin tone, is influenced by the melanocortin-1 (MC1R) gene receptor. For the population’s 1 to 2 percent of redheads, a mutation in MC1R accounts for their red hair color and typical light skin. Now researchers from Harvard Medical School (a component of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) have discovered that the same MC1R mutation responsible for the red-hair phenotype also promotes an important cancer-causing pathway. The new findings, reported online August 22 in the journal Molecular Cell, help to explain the molecular mechanisms that underlie redheads’ well-known risk of developing melanoma, providing new insights for treating and preventing this dangerous type of skin cancer.

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NCI comprehensive cancer centers logoAmong the research institutions NCI funds across the United States, it currently designates 67 as Cancer Centers. Largely based in research universities, these facilities are home to many of the NCI-supported scientists who conduct a wide range of intense, laboratory research into cancer’s origins and development. The Cancer Centers Program also focuses on trans-disciplinary research, including population science and clinical research. The centers’ research results are often at the forefront of studies in the cancer field.