Researchers found the first genetic cause of melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer -unrelated to hair, skin or eye color, typically associated with the disease.
The discovery is a first for a disease that kills 48,000 people annually worldwide.
Researchers previously knew that people with fairer complexions had an increased risk for the lethal skin cancer when exposed to the sun's UV rays - a risk related to pigment-producing cell under genetic control.
However, an international team found three regions of genetic code in humans that can cause melanoma but are independent of complexion.
The researchers scanned across human genomes - the book of life encoded in everyone's DNA - in 3,000 Europeans with melanoma and compared with those who didn't have the disease and found three genetic regions increased a person's risk for melanoma.
We know that overexposure to UV increases the risk of developing melanoma - but this evidence shows that there are new additional genetic faults which can push up the risk further, said Tim Bishop, cancer research and lead author based in the Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Leeds. It is fascinating to discover these new melanoma risk factors - and we expect that the results of similar studies underway will reveal even more.
The researchers validated previously known genetic risk factors for melanoma and added three more to the cadre of potential drug targets.
The new genes included: on chromosome 2, caspase 8, a gene involved in how cells program themselves to die; on chromosome 11, a gene that assists in repairing DNA damage from the sun and on chromosome 21, MX2, which has been linked to narcolepsy, a condition that causes patient to fall asleep rapidly.
It is fascinating to discover these new melanoma risk factors - and we expect that the results of similar studies underway will reveal even more, said Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information.
These intriguing results provide deeper understanding of the causes of melanoma and provide a potential new approach to identify people most at risk of developing melanoma and other cancers.
Along with Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Leeds, a team from the GenoMEL European consortium published their work in Nature Genetics Sunday.
Even with the hope of therapies being testing currently in 390 clinical trials in the U.S., Walker suggested a practical approach to avoiding the lethal disease. The best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer, is to protect yourself from strong sun by covering up with clothing, spending some time in the shade, and applying at least SPF 15 sunscreen with four or more stars generously and regularly, she said.