Explaining to people that they have a high genetic risk for melanoma makes them choose positive lifestyle changes to reduce their risk, a new study has shown.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer to which certain people are predisposed to through genetic factors. These include having a family history of the disease and carrying the CDKN2A gene mutation. Melanoma is particularly prevalent in Utah, due to the near constant sun exposure.

The study focused on individuals in Utah who had three or more family members with the disease. The participants were genetically tested to identify if they had the CDKN2A gene mutation and then had an individual session with a qualified genetic counsellor. Individuals without the mutation were informed of their higher melanoma risk due to having a family history of the disease, whilst those with the mutation were informed that their higher risk was due to both the mutation and family history.

All participants had the environmental risk factors of the disease explained to them, including sun exposure, and were given instructions on how to reduce their exposure. The participants were given a device to monitor their sun exposure and had their skin pigmentation measured with a laser.

Overall, the study showed participants reduced their UV exposure after their genetic counselling. Individuals with the CDKN2A also showed lighter skin pigmentation a year later.

The results show the importance of genetic counselling to inform patients’ decisions.

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