by Todd C. Killebrew, N.D.
With Summer upon us and the inevitable tanning and sometimes sunburns that go along with it, skin cancer risk often comes to the forefront. While excessive sun exposure does increase skin cancer risk, avoiding the sun altogether can pose just as great of risks.
A new study from last month seems to offer a new angle for skin cancer prevention. It involved simple, over-the-counter nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3. The study, done in Australia, examined 386 people who had at least two non-melanoma skin cancers. It was found that those who took nicotinamide at 500 mg twice daily for one year decreased their risk of developing new skin cancer (basal and squamous cell carcinoma) by 23 percent compared with those who took a placebo.
It is thought that the vitamin prevents skin cancer through improving the immune system and by bolstering the skin cell’s ability to repair DNA damage from UV exposure. The study did not examine nicotinamide’s effect on melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer), but it was found to also reduce pre-cancerous lesions (actinic keratosis) by 11 percent after three months and by 20 percent after nine months. Although the participants in the study began seeing results within as little as three months there was no protection when they stopped taking the vitamin (the participants were tracked for 6 months after they stopped taking nicotinamide and their rate of new skin cancers was as high as the untreated group).
Twenty-three percent may not sound like much, but that is huge from a medical treatment standpoint. This is especially profound as nicotinamide is a cheap and readily available supplement. With millions of cases of skin cancer yearly this has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of cancers and expensive treatments. In light of this new research, I would recommend anyone with a history of skin cancer supplement with nicotinamide accordingly. And even though the study only examined those with a history of skin cancer it would seem that similar benefits should hold true for those without a history of skin cancer.