Br J Dermatol. 1998 Apr;138(4):627-30.

Comment in:
Br J Dermatol. 1998 Dec;139(6):1111.

Celtic ancestry, HLA phenotype and increased risk of skin cancer.

Long CC, Darke C, Marks R.

Department of Dermatology, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, U.K.

Individuals of Celtic ancestry are claimed to be at greater risk of skin cancer than non-Celts, and various positive and negative associations between certain human leucocyte antigen (HLA) phenotypes and the development of skin cancer have been described. The aims of this study were to determine whether any HLA phenotypes are associated either with Celtic or non-Celtic ancestry, or skin type. One thousand and ten members of the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry (WBMDR), whose HLA phenotypes are known, were asked to complete a questionnaire which enquired as to their family origins and their 'Index of Celtic Ancestry' scored out of 12. Three groups were identified: non-Celts (score < 3), Celts (score > 9), and a subset of the Celts--'high scoring' Celts (score > 10). Details of hair and eye colour and skin type were also requested. Skin type and HLA-A, -B, -DR and -DQ frequencies were compared between the three groups (Celts, non-Celts and 'high scoring' Celts), and a random indigenous population of 9196 members of the WBMDR. Seven hundred and thirty-six replies were received (279 male, 457 female, mean age 31 years). One hundred and forty-four Celts, 51 'high scoring' Celts and 170 non-Celts were identified. Forty-six (32%) Celts had skin type I or II compared with 36 (21%) non-Celts (P = 0.039), and 37 (73%) 'high scoring' Celts had skin type I or II (P < 0.0001). However, there were no significant differences between the groups with regard to hair colour, eye colour or number of episodes of painful sunburn. The frequency of HLA-DR4 was 32% in the non-Celtic group, 44% in the Celtic group (not significant), and 53% in the 'high scoring' Celts (P = 0.008). However, the difference was not significant after correction. There were no significant associations between skin type and HLA phenotype. HLA-DR4 is known to be associated with an increased risk of both basal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma and its increased frequency in Celts may be an independent risk factor for skin cancer in addition to skin type.