Moles and melanoma – is the sun the real culprit after all?

14th August 2019

Genes have a greater influence than previously thought not only on the number of moles you have but also where they are on your body, according to new research from TwinsUK.

Moles are a major risk factor for melanoma skin cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Approximately 13,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

The researchers studied more than 3,200 twins.

The team found that women had more moles on their legs than men, who previous studies have found tend to have more moles on their head, neck and trunk. This is in line with increased melanoma risk for men and women in these particular body sites.

The researchers found that for women, the number of moles on their legs is 69% due to genes, compared to 26% for the trunk.

The genes that influence mole number and location are also linked with the development of melanoma.

Lead researcher Dr Alessia Visconti, from the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, explained:

“We’ve known for some time that moles are a major risk factor for melanoma skin cancer. With this research we now know that not only the number but also the location of moles on the body is in large part due to genetics.

“Our results add to previous evidence that indicates greater sun exposure alone is unlikely to be the reason why women have more moles on their legs.

“While sun exposure does contribute to mole count and skin cancer risk, policymakers, campaigners and health researchers will need to take the genetic element and sex into account when developing strategies to prevent and treat skin cancer.”

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