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Vitamin D, Calcium May Reduce Risk of Skin Cancer in Women


Could taking supplements of calcium plus vitamin D reduce the risk of life-threatening skin cancer? Results of a data analysis indicate that this nutrient combination can cut the risk of melanoma in women at high risk of developing this skin cancer by more than 50 percent.

The sunshine vitamin may reduce skin cancer risk

Study results come from an analysis of data from 36,282 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative. The women received either placebo or supplements of 400 IUs of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium carbonate daily for an average follow-up period of 7 years.

Overall, the incident rates of non-melanoma skin cancer and melanoma did not differ between the women who took the supplements and those who took the placebo. However, among a subgroup of women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, those who took the calcium/vitamin D supplements developed 57 percent fewer melanomas than women also at high risk who took placebo.

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While non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is generally not fatal, having a history of NMSC makes people more likely to develop melanoma, the more deadly type of skin cancer. NMSC usually starts in either basal or squamous cells and develops on sun-exposed areas of the body. Basal and squamous cell cancers usually can be cured if detected and treated early.

Melanoma begins in melanocytes, which are the cells that make the pigment melanin. It is the leading cause of death from skin cancer and also the most dangerous type of the disease. An estimated 68,130 new cases of melanoma occurred in the United States in 2010, with an estimated 8,700 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.

This study is important because it indicates that vitamin D plus calcium may have a role in fighting skin cancer. According to Teresa Fu, MD, a co-author of the study, “Our results include the first positive cancer-reducing effect seen from the calcium plus vitamin D trial.” Jean Tang, MD, PhD, who led the study, noted that their findings “spur us to do more studies.”

National Cancer Institute
Tang JY et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2011; doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.34.5967