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Study: Vitamin D and Calcium Ward Off Melanoma in High-Risk Women

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© iStockphoto/Alexandr Tovstenko
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© iStockphoto/Alexandr Tovstenko

We’re all familiar with the sunscreen-sunglasses-sunhat mantra to protect our skin from the sun, but now…calcium and vitamin D?

Maybe for high-risk women, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. In a study published Monday, scientists analyzed data from a large clinical trial and found that women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer — basal cell and squamous cell cancers — could reduce their risk of melanoma by consuming daily doses of 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 International Units, or 10 mcg, of vitamin D.

The data came from the Women’s Health Initiative, a major government study that followed 36,000 women ages 50 to 79 for an average of seven years.

Melanoma is less common but significantly more fatal than other forms of skin cancer. Each year in the United States, about 29,000 women are diagnosed with the disease and 3,000 women die of it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancers are at two to three times higher risk of getting melanoma, according to Jean Tang, a dermatologist and lead author of the study. But the supplements reduced their risk by 57 percent, the study found.

The findings highlight the catch-22 of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and has also been correlated with a lower risk of various cancers. Since vitamin D is present in very few foods, most people rely on ultraviolet sun rays — a known carcinogen — to meet the recommended daily intake. Exposure to sunlight triggers vitamin D production in the body.

“Nobody really knows how much sunlight you need for optimal vitamin D synthesis versus too much sunlight,” Tang said. The American Medical Association recommends 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) several times a week. Dietary supplements are recommended if sun exposure does not produce enough vitamin D.

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