Shuyang Chen, PhD

Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute


Pilot Grant

Melanoma prevention for women with red hair

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is one of the most challenging cancer to treat. Melanoma is not traditionally considered sex-specific cancer. However, females younger than 49 years have a higher risk of developing melanoma than other cancers, except breast and thyroid cancer. In addition, more white women develop melanoma than white men before the age of 49. Therefore, the underlying mechanism of melanoma development in women demands intensive study.

Previous studies showed that red hair puts us at a higher risk of melanoma. The essential gene that controls our hair color is the Melanocortin 1 Receptor (MC1R). Once MC1R has mutations, it could give us red hair and make us more susceptible to melanoma. This “red hair mutation” is common in white people. For example, more than half of the northern European population has the “red hair mutation.” It is also estimated that one to two percent of the world’s population has the “red hair mutation”.

Most importantly, our preliminary study found that females with “red hair mutation” develop melanoma more quickly and often than males. However, we still don’t know the cause. In our proposed study, we unravel the mechanism that why women with “red hair mutation” are so prone to develop melanoma. In summary, our study will provide novel insight into melanoma prevention, especially for women with red hair.

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