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Drugs Today (Barc). 2005 Mar;41(3):193-203.

The genetics of susceptibility to cutaneous melanoma.

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Division of Genetic Epidemiology, Cancer Research UK, St James's Hospital, Leeds, UK.


The most common genetic determinants of skin cancer are the genes that control skin color so that the genes expressed as black skin are protective. Within the white population variants at the MC1R locus are shown to increase susceptibility, and recent evidence suggests that polymorphisms in the OCA2 gene interact to modify risk. Other as-yet-unidentified pigment genes may also play a role in susceptibility to melanoma. Thus MC1R variants are the most common low-penetrance melanoma-susceptibility genes so far identified. Other putative low-penetrance susceptibility genes have been explored using candidate gene approaches. Good candidates such as the DNA repair gene XRCC3 and polymorphisms of EGF have been studied but excluded. Other candidates such as BRAF polymorphisms and variants at the CDKN2A locus remain to be fully investigated. More progress has been made in identifying high-penetrance genes, however. The most common (and probably the most penetrant) susceptibility locus is the CDKN2A locus coding for two tumor suppressor proteins, p16 and p14ARF. Mutations at this locus that impact p16, p14ARF or both proteins all increase susceptibility to melanoma. Families inheriting such mutants are at increased risk of cutaneous melanoma, and the penetrance is increased by residence in sunny climates and co-inheritance of MC1R variants. Some families also appear to be at increased risk of pancreatic cancer, but the determinants of susceptibility to pancreatic cancer are not yet understood. Very rare families have germline mutations in the CDK4 gene which impact on the p16 binding site. There are other high-penetrance susceptibility genes, however, which remain undiscovered. There is evidence of one at 1p22. The Melanoma Genetics Consortium ( continues to explore this and the genetic epidemiology of the CDKN2A locus.

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