Vitamin D is made in response to sunlight

Can Vitamin D Cut Your Cancer Risk?

Can Vitamin D Cut Your Cancer Risk?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

"Sunshine vitamin"? How about "sun protection vitamin"? Vitamin D may just be the golden ticket when it comes to minimizing your skin cancer risk, according to a new study out of the University of Eastern Finland published in Melanoma Research.

This study analyzed 498 adults between the ages of 21 and 79 who are at a high risk of skin cancer, and grouped them based on their individual level and frequency of taking vitamin D. The participants were grouped by non-use, occasional use and regular use of vitamin D.

The results were promising for those who regularly took vitamin D, with the researchers finding that those who took their D levels more seriously and were regularly including the vitamin their regimen had lower rates of past or present melanoma—or any type of skin cancer, for that matter. Even occasional use of vitamin D was found to potentially lower risk for melanoma compared to non-use, with researcher and Professor of Dermatology Ilkka Harvima concluding that "it is worth paying attention to sufficient intake of vitamin D in the population" and that it is beneficial to maintain proper vitamin D intake.

How vitamin D supports your skin

If you know anything about vitamin D, then you probably know that its reputation precedes itself, and it was given its sunny moniker for a good reason! Exposure to sunlight is one of the primary sources of vitamin D for most people. This nutrient is produced in skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet rays.

But that's not all. Vitamin D is also involved in regulating healthy proliferation and differentiation of skin cells, which means it helps maintain normal skin cell growth and function. It's also known for its role in photoprotection against ultraviolet (including UVA and UVB) rays on sun exposed skin, and even plays a role in anti-aging effects in the skin through its anti-inflammatory functions. All the more reason to look on the bright (and sunny) side of life!

And the role of vitamin D is even more promising when looking at the findings of the University of Eastern Finland study. They found a correlation between vitamin D levels and lower occurrence of skin cancer overall.

The results showed that:

  • 18% of regular users of vitamin D had past or present melanoma as compared to 32% of non-users
  • 62% of regular users had any past or present skin cancer as compared to 75% of non-users

Warning: Too much sun exposure also has carries skin cancer risks

Remember that while you want to get some sun exposure to properly synthesize vitamin D and reap its benefits, there is such thing as too much exposure to sunlight. Try to maintain a healthy balance of getting enough sun to benefit your health without getting too much to harm it! Also be sure to wear sun protection when going outdoors. Tanning is not a wise pastime; it might look "healthy" to have some color, but sun damaged skin is anything but!

Could lack of vitamin D cause melanoma?

While it is hard to say definitively that vitamin D deficiency can cause melanoma, vitamin D levels appear to be linked with various skin cancers. One study of melanoma and vitamin D levels found that while serum levels of vitamin D were not closely related to melanoma risk, they are associated with more severe melanoma—including Breslow thickness (a measure of the actual mole being affected). This is significant, as there is a correlation between Breslow thickness and mortality.

Another study also showed that vitamin D can reduce the growth of melanoma cells. And perhaps most concerning of all, vitamin D deficiency is associated with worse overall survival in melanoma patients. So although a lack of vitamin D in your diet isn't necessarily a direct cause of melanoma, it can be a risk factor. Ensuring you're getting enough is important for overall health outcomes, including all-cause mortality.

What’s the Difference Between Carcinoma and Melanoma?

Skin cancers fall into different categories, depending on which type of cell and layer of skin they start in. You have probably heard of non-melanoma (aka carcinomas) and melanoma. There are a few key differences between these two types.

  • Carcinomas

    are a type of non-melanoma skin cancer that are more common and less aggressive than melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are two of the most common types of cell carcinomas, which arise from the basal or squamous skin cells. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding cells. Overall survival is generally higher in basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma when compared to melanoma.
  • Melanoma

    , sometimes known as malignant melanoma, develops when pigment-producing cells (known as melanocytes) in the skin become cancerous. It is usually characterized by new and unusual growth or a change in an existing mole, and can occur anywhere on the body. The most common type is called cutaneous melanoma. Early detection and diagnosis is key when it comes to all cancers, but especially this form of skin cancer, as the treatment can often be more aggressive, and is typically more deadly, especially if it develops into metastatic melanoma.


5 warning signs of melanoma

Monitoring yourself for any skin irregularities is an important way to be proactive about your skin health and identifying melanoma risk. According to the American Cancer Society, unusual moles, sores, blemishes, markings or changes in the skin could be signs of melanoma or other types of skin cancer diagnosis. While some of these changes can be harmless, keep an eye out for any new spot on the skin, a spot that is changing in size, shape or color, or a spot that looks different from all other spots on the skin, as these could be signs of melanoma progression.

The American Cancer Society also recommends looking out for the five usual signs of melanoma (also known as the ABCDE rule) when you notice an irregular spot:

  • Asymmetry

    —The halves of a mole or spot don't match.
  • Border

    —The edges of the spot may be irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color

    —Look for color variations in your moles—this could mean the color not being the same all over, various shades of brown or black, it may even have patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • Diameter

    —Check to see if your spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (or around ¼ inch). While this is something to look out for, it's also important to note that this is the average, and that melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • Evolving

    —Look for changes in size, shape, or color.

Some other melanoma specific signs to look out for are:

  • Wounds that won't heal.
  • Pigment spreading from the border of a spot into the surrounding skin area.
  • Redness/swelling past the border of the mole.
  • Itchiness, tenderness, pain, or other change in sensation.
  • Change in the surface of a mole, including but not limited to scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or appearances of lumps or bumps.

While these are common warning signs, they aren't the end all be all ways of identifying potential melanoma. If you find a mole or spot that causes concern, it's important to see your dermatologist for a clear diagnosis.

How do I know I have a vitamin D deficiency?

While you may think there's one telltale sign that you're experiencing a vitamin D deficiency, the fact of the matter is that most people who have suboptimal vitamin D levels actually don't experience many signs or symptoms. While there are some general symptoms that may point to potential deficiencies (including tiredness, low mood or even muscle pain), the best way to determine if your levels are where you want them to be is through blood testing. A 25 hydroxyvitamin D test is a simple way to assess your vitamin D status and help identify interventions to help bring your D levels up to an optimal range.

How to increase your vitamin D levels

If you want to up your intake of the sunshine vitamin, you're in luck! There are several different ways you can get your vitamin D status right where you want it for optimal health:

  • Optimize your safe UV exposure

    —Synthesizing vitamin D from sun exposure is one the easiest ways to keep your D levels right where they should be. But don't pull out your beach chair just yet! Be mindful if you do choose to catch some rays and ensure you're taking sun protection measures. Seek out shade from time to time, cover up with a hat and sunglasses, and apply sunscreen regularly when you're in a sun exposed area.
  • Incorporate vitamin D-rich foods

    —While it is hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone, there are still several foods that contain a higher concentration of vitamin D and can contribute to increased levels over time. These include salmon, tuna and other fish, eggs, mushrooms, and fortified foods such as milk, cereal, tofu and orange juice.
  • Smart nutrient intake

    —Supplemental vitamin D intake may very well be the easiest way to ensure you're getting optimal levels for your needs. While vitamin D2 does offer benefits (and anything form is better than nothing when you're trying to avoid deficiencies), try to take vitamin D3, as it's more well known for supporting whole-body health, including immune function, breast health, bone and heart health.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.