A new study suggests that melanoma risk in redheads is likely in their genetic make-up.
Credit: Jemal Countess

A new study suggests that redheads' increased risk of melanoma is likely found in their genes.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that those with a reddish-yellow pigment to their hair were at an increased risk for the skin cancer melanoma even if they protect themselves from the sun.

“We’ve known for a long time that people with red hair and fair skin have the highest melanoma risk,” said study author David E. Fisher, director of the melanoma program at Massachusetts General Hospital, reported the Boston Globe.

“These new findings do not increase that risk but identify a new mechanism to help explain it.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, researchers found that those with the pigment were at a far higher risk for the cancer no matter what they're sun habits were.

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"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," said Fisher, according to the Times.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

It is estimated that about 76,000 people will get melanoma in 2012 and 9000 will die from the disease.

MedPage Today said that this shows that melanoma may not be about sunlight but rather about skin pigmentation and a person's genetic make-up.

The culprit say researchers could be the pigment pheomelanin, a theory that had already been posited in other studies but never proven until now.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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