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Skin cancer patients lacking a certain vitamin less likely to survive

Skin cancer: Dr Chris outlines the signs of a melanoma

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The disease accounts for around one percent of cancer deaths in the UK every year. And since the early 1970s melanoma skin cancer mortality rates have increased by around two and a half times. Now, research conducted by a team in Spain has found you are less likely to outlive the disease if you are deficient in vitamin D.

A retrospective study, published in the Melanoma Research journal, analysed a group of 264 patients with invasive melanoma from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.

Dermatology researchers discovered that those whose vitamin D levels were lower than 10 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) following their melanoma diagnosis were twice as likely to have lower overall survival than those with vitamin D levels equal or greater than 10ng/mL.

Lead researcher Doctor Inés Gracia-Darder, from the Hospital University Son Espases, Mallorca, said: “Although previous research has identified that normal levels of vitamin D play a protective role in melanoma survival, this study aimed to further understand this relationship.

“These findings suggest that vitamin D has a significant impact on people with melanoma, showing in particular that vitamin D deficient patients have a lower overall survival.”

The results, which were presented at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology congress on September 7, “remained significant” even when adjusting the model for age at diagnosis, sex, Breslow index (depth of the melanoma from the skin surface to the deepest point), and the season of the year.

In contrast with previous studies, the study showed that the basal characteristics at diagnosis of melanoma (such as age, sex, location, Breslow index and ulceration) were not associated with differences in vitamin D levels.

Dr Gracia-Darder added: “Although the mechanisms underlying the association between vitamin D and melanoma overall survival still require further investigation, this study will hopefully encourage further research examining whether vitamin D supplements may have the ability to improve the prognosis for vitamin D deficient melanoma patients and increase their overall survival.”

Paradoxically, most of our vitamin D intake comes from sunlight.

In the UK we should get enough vitamin D just by spending time outdoors in the spring and summer.

But health bodies warn you should use plenty of sun cream to prevent getting sunburn, a major risk factor of skin cancer.

During the autumn and winter months the NHS recommends making sure you get enough through your diet – or taking supplements if needed.

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that give skin colour) grow uncontrollably.

It can then spread to other areas of the body.

It may occur at any age, but it is more common in older people.

However, in comparison to most other cancer types, it is also quite common in younger people.

According to the NHS the most “common” sign of melanoma is the “appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole”.

It says: “This can happen anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are the back in men and the legs in women.”

Aside from sun exposure, other factors that can increase the risk of melanoma include having:

  • Lots of moles or freckles
  • Pale skin that burns easily
  • Ped or blonde hair
  • A close family member who’s had melanoma.

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