According to new research from the University of Sydney and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a form of vitamin B3 can lower the risk of common, non-melanoma skin cancer in high-risk patients. All 386 participants in the study had a history of skin cancer, increasing their risk for additional skin cancers and took nicotinamide (a derivative of vitamin B3) twice daily for 12 months. The study population reflected the mix of patients typically seen in a skin cancer clinic. Nicotinamide reduced the incidence of new non-melanoma skin cancers by 23 percent relative to placebo controls and cut the incidence of pre-cancerous sun spots by around 15 percent for participants. Nicotinamide is safe, affordable, and available over the counter in most countries.
The findings have the potential to decrease the health burden and economic cost of skin cancer—the most common form of cancer in fair-skinned populations worldwide. "This is the first clear evidence that we can reduce skin cancers using a simple vitamin, together with sensible sun protection," says Diona Damian, Ph.D., the study's senior author and a professor of dermatology at the University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. "We hope that these findings can be immediately translated into clinical practice. However, people at high risk of skin cancer still need to practice sun safe behavior, use sunscreens and have regular check-ups with their doctor.”
The study was not designed to test whether nicotinamide would benefit people in the general population who have not had skin cancer, or whether it could be effective in reducing melanoma. Whilst the researchers hope to investigate these questions in the future, there is currently no evidence that nicotinamide should be used in these settings.—Jennifer Nied