FIRST PERSON | High-tech researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have come up with a low-tech observation. They believe that your eye color might well predict whether you're at risk for serious skin disorders like melanoma.
The Colorado researchers are part of the Human Medical Genetics and Genomics program. Their center coordinated a study that followed almost 3,000 subjects with vitiligo, according to a news release from the medical school. All the individuals were of non-Hispanic European ancestry.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that strikes individuals of all races and skin colors, states the American Academy of Dermatology. Those with the disorder have characteristic patches of white skin and hair. One of the most famous patients was the entertainer Michael Jackson, NYDailyNews.com reported.
Although the Colorado scientists studied only patients with vitiligo, they suggest that eye color might be significant in predicting the risk of melanoma, because the two disorders are genetically related, says WebMD. Health care providers consider melanoma the deadliest type of skin cancer.
The study compared the genes linked to vitiligo in 450 individuals with the disorder to the characteristics of the group with non-Hispanic European ancestry. Researchers identified 13 new genes believed to predispose an individual to vitiligo. In general, vitiligo patients face an elevated risk for other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and thyroid disease.
Among the vitiligo patients observed, 27 percent had blue or gray eyes. This contrasts with 52 percent of Americans with a European background who don't suffer from the disorder. Nearly half -- 43 percent -- had brown or tan eyes, versus 27 percent for those without vitiligo. The statistics were a bit closer for subjects with green or hazel eyes: 30 percent for those with the skin condition versus 22 percent for subjects without it.
About 10 years ago, I probably saved my own life, according to my dermatologist. Blonde and ivory-skinned, with green eyes and German ancestry, I had avoided direct sun my entire life. When I found an odd, raised spot beside one knee, I immediately called the dermatologist, who removed it nearly as fast. The pathology report suggested the cells were fortunately benign but only days away from becoming melanoma. Because I also take drugs to suppress my immunity, the dermatologist and I now see each other at the first sign of anything growing where it shouldn't.
The number of subjects in the Colorado study is on the small side. Even assuming that the suggested link between vitiligo and melanoma is a valid one, I'm not bemoaning the fact that I don't have blue or gray eyes. The concept of eye color predicting melanoma risk feels like a bit of a stretch. I don't think I'll be skipping any visits to the dermatologist just because I was born with green eyes.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other life-changing health conditions.