A tablet readily available in health food stores may be the key to lowering skin cancer risk, according to new Australian research.
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, the Cancer Council advising 80 percent of new cancers in Australians are sun cancers and that doctors take one million skin cancer consultations every year.
In a 12-month trial of high-risk patients who had previously had non-melanoma skin cancers, researchers from the University of Sydney found that nicotinamide -- a form of vitamin B3 -- lowered the risk of skin cancer by 25 percent, in a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This was a vitamin, a dietary supplement that's widely available. We were using high doses, 500 milligrams twice a day, but it is a formulation that can be sourced through health food stores," said Dr Andrew Martin, a researcher in the clinical trials unit of USYD's National Health and Medical Research Council.
Martin told The Huffington Post Australia half of the 386-strong trial group were given nicotinamide, while the other half were given placebos.
"The patients stayed on the treatment for 12 months and were reviewed by dermatologists every three months who counted cancers and sun spots that developed. The group with nicotinamide had a 25 percent reduction in the numbers of skin cancers they were developing," he said.
However, Martin stressed the results were only valid for patients with a high risk of developing skin cancers and the results gave no evidence around whether nicotinamide supplements would have any effect on the general population.
He also said the trial only looked at non-melanoma skin cancers. Martin said the group would now aim to undertake similar research into melanoma skin cancers.
"That is a question our study didn't answer, but one we would like to answer with an even larger study in future. We would also like to look at some super-high risk patients who have suppressed immune systems. Kidney transplant recipients take medicine to stop rejection of the organ, which may have an effect on immune system and skin cancers," he said.
The study’s senior author, Dr Diona Damian, a professor of dermatology at the University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, was excited about the results of the study.
"This is the first clear evidence that we can reduce skin cancers using a simple vitamin, together with sensible sun protection,” she said in a statement.
“We hope that these findings can be immediately translated into clinical practice. However, people at high risk of skin cancer still need to practice sun safe behaviour, use sunscreens and have regular check-ups with their doctor."
Martin said the results were encouraging and that dermatologists could prescribe vitamin B3 supplements to their patients, but did not recommend people ditch the sunscreen for supplements or the rash vest for vitamins.
"That is not a responsible message to put out, that people could take some vitamin B and not be as careful as they should be in the sun," he said said.
"People who have a track record of developing non-melanoma skin cancers could be considered by their dermatologist as someone who can benefit from nicotinamide, but these people need to maintain use of sunscreens, sun smart behaviour and regular dermatological assessment. This research in no way replaces those, but is an additional preventative strategy for people at high risk."
"For the general population, sun smart behaviour and sun screen use is still the way."