MANKATO — Sunscreen and limiting sun exposure are the surest bets to reduce skin cancer risks, but a new study found a certain dietary choice may also help long term.
The Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology recently published the results from a long-term study into the connection between vitamin A intake and skin cancer. The findings suggest increased dietary intake of the vitamin, meaning not from supplements, was associated with lower cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma risks.
Dr. Nikoo Cheraghi, dermatologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, said the study was a follow-up to an earlier one that didn’t identify an association between vitamin A intake and skin cancer prevention. The most recent results came after a longer-term scope, finding intake over an extended period was related to the lower cancer rates.
Cheraghi said she’d like to see further study into the connection between vitamin A and skin cancer prevention before recommending patients incorporate it more into their diets. Synthetic vitamin A, though, is already used as a medication for patients considered at high risk for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or CSCC.
High-risk patients include those with lower-functioning immune systems, like organ transplant recipients. They commonly need medications to keep their immune systems from attacking a new organ, leaving them less protected against skin cancer.
Synthetic vitamin A could then be prescribed to promote skin health among this high-risk population, Cheraghi said.
“It decreases the growth of cells and helps to block malignant changes, that’s probably the biggest thing we see in terms of cancer prevention,” she said.
The researchers studied 48,400 men and 75,170 women during a 26-year period. Results were published amid rising numbers of CSCC, which has an estimated 7% to 11% incidence rate in the United States. It typically occurs on body parts most exposed to sunlight, like the face and head.
Based on vitamin A’s known nutritional qualities, downtown Hy-Vee dietitian Holly Ellison said the study’s results weren’t necessarily surprising. Along with skin health, the vitamin is known to help with vision and the immune system.
It’s also fairly easy to look for in markets. Just look for orange fruits and veggies, but not oranges. Ellison said carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and red and orange peppers are all good sources for the helpful vitamin. Other foods with it include vitamin A-fortified cereals and spinach.
A healthy vitamin A diet would generally be 900 micrograms per day for men, 700 micrograms for women and 770 micrograms for pregnant women. Breastfeeding women could stand to take in as many as 1,300 micrograms per day, Ellison said.
For reference, one sweet potato equals about 1,400 micrograms. A half-cup of spinach measures in at 500 to 600 micrograms.
“It’s actually pretty easy to get within a day when you think of it that way,” Ellison said.
Vitamin A is also fat soluble, meaning it’s best absorbed when paired with fat. That means pairing butter with your sweet potato or avocado with your spinach salad.