A new research found that naturally red-headed men are 54% less likely to develop prostate cancer as those with blond, brown or black hair.
Why hair color should be such a powerful influence on cancer risk is not clear.
Scientists behind the findings, published online in the British Journal of Cancer, think it might be to do with the way genes that dictate hair pigmentation also influence tumor development.
Britain has some of the largest numbers of ginger-haired people per head of population. Globally, the figure is 1-2%, but it is 13% in Scotland, 10% in Ireland and 6% in England.
Previous studies have hinted that having red hair affects health in other ways.
Scientists at Louisville University in Kentucky, found ginger-haired people feel pain and the cold more than everybody else because their pain threshold may be partly dictated by the same gene that sets their hair color – MC1R.
Red-heads, being fair skinned, are also known to be more at risk of skin cancer.
Researchers from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Medicine, in Helsinki, and the US National Cancer Institute, based in Maryland, wanted to see if the same genetic factors also influenced a man’s chances of prostate cancer.
The researchers looked at 20,000 men aged 50 to 69 who were recruited to a long-term health study in the late 1980s.
Among the data collected were records of what color their hair was aged 20.
Researchers found that 1,982 men went on to develop prostate cancer.
Researchers stressed that only 1% of the men studied had red hair, compared to more than 40% with light brown hair.
Scientists think it is possible that the MC1R gene may help to control the way some cells divide and grow