A form of the B vitamin, niacin, might ward off skin cancer, according to a study from the University of Sydney in Australia. Placebos or supplements of nicotinamide (500 milligrams 2X/day) were taken by 386 patients with an average age of 66-years and who had at least two non-melanoma skin cancers during the past five years. Dermatologists checked for skin cancer every three months during the one-year study. Results showed that new non-melanoma skin cancer rates were down 23% in the supplemented group compared to the placebo group. The vitamin supplement also appeared to reduce the number of thick, scaly patches of skin that can become cancer. Those patches were reduced by 11% within three months of supplementing, and by 20% by nine months of treatment. These benefits quickly disappeared during the study’s follow-up period. “When people stopped taking their tablets, the benefits no longer were seen…. you need to continue taking the tablets…for them to be effective,” said the researchers. No adverse side effects were noted.
In Perspective: UV light from the sun damages the DNA of skin cells, depletes the energy that skin cells need to repair damaged DNA, and suppresses the immune system, thus hampering the body’s ability to fight off cancer. Previous studies have shown the nicotinamide might provide skin cells with an “energy boost,” enhancing DNA repair and strengthening the skin’s immune system. While more research is needed, this is a ray of hope, since skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with about 5 million cases treated every year.
Chen A, Martin A, Choy B, et al: A phase 3 randomized trial of nicotinamide for skin cancer chemoprevention. New England Journal of Medicine 2015;373:1618-1626.