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Trying to prevent skin cancer, some people develop vitamin D deficiency

October 18, 2010
  • Avoiding the sun may lead to low vitamin D levels.
Avoiding the sun may lead to low vitamin D levels. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

People with a rare, genetic condition that causes skin cancer usually studiously avoid sunlight in order to reduce their cancer risk. But, in doing so, these people increase their risk of vitamin D deficiency, researchers reported Monday.

Basal cell nevus syndrome causes people to develop basal cell cancer lesions as early as adolescence. But in a study of 41 people with the condition, more than half were found to be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin from exposure to sunlight. The vitamin is one of the hottest areas of nutrition research right now because low levels have been linked to numerous health problems.

Regular testing of vitamin D blood levels, and taking supplements (not increasing sun exposure), is recommended for people with basal cell nevus syndrome. But the same prevention strategy might also be wise for people who have had basal cell skin cancer and who avoid the sun in order to reduce their risk, the authors of the paper said.

"There is a chance that we are inadvertently putting some of our patients at risk for vitamin D deficiency because they're avoiding sunlight, they're putting on sunscreen, they're staying in the shade," the lead author of the study, Dr. Jean Tang of Stanford University, said in a news release. The study was published Monday in the Archives of Dermatology.

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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