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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 00:41 GMT
Scots 'at greater skin cancer risk'
Melanoma can be deadly
Genetic flaws make Scottish people more likely than those in the rest of the UK to develop skin cancer, say researchers.

Experts already know that the Scots' tendency to have fair skin makes them more susceptible to malignant melanoma, because this gives them less protection against the sun's harmful UV rays.

But scientists from the University of Edinburgh, funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, have shown that minute errors in a gene - known as the XPD gene - are also to blame.

These errors mean that once skin has been damaged, the body is less able to carry out repairs.

Tiny mistakes in vital genes give people a two or three times greater risk of getting the disease

Professor David Melton, University of Edinburgh
The discovery could help to develop a test for predicting who is at greatest risk of malignant melanoma.

It may also eventually lead to steps to prevent this deadly disease.

Common disease

Malignant melanoma is common in the UK and a particular problem in Scotland, where it affects around 700 people each year.

Lead researcher Professor David Melton said: "Our work shows that tiny mistakes in vital genes give people a two or three times greater risk of getting the disease.

"And this, combined with a fair complexion, can be particularly dangerous.

"We believe that there are a number of these genes and they can combine to give people an even higher risk of the disease, perhaps as much as ten times higher, but if we can identify them all we can take steps to prevent the disease."

When these genes are intact, they spot sun damage in the skin and then either repair the damage or tell the cell to stop dividing.

But if the genes are faulty, sun damage can be missed and this leads to cancer.

Professor Melton said: "When these genes are slightly faulty, the repair process becomes 'leaky' and damage can go by unnoticed.

"But if we can work out who has these tiny errors, we can tell them to take extra care in the sun and give them regular check-ups."

The Cancer Research Campaign's director general, Professor Gordon McVie, said: "Professor Melton's work sheds more light on malignant melanoma and why it is a problem in Scotland.

"This is an exciting area of research because it will help us to identify those people most at risk from the disease and could save hundreds of lives."

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17 Mar 00 | C-D
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