Vitamin B3 Protects Against Skin Cancer


A good intake of vitamin B3, which is found in fish, meats, seeds and nuts – especially peanuts – may help to protect you from skin cancer. Skin cancer is increasing in prevalence and, although malignant melanoma is the most dangerous, at least ten times more non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the form of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).

BCCs rarely spread but are locally invasive and can be disfiguring.

SCCs are able to spread elsewhere in the body and some develop from premalignant lesions known as actinic keratoses.

What are actinic keratoses?

Actinic keratoses (AK) are caused by long-term UV damage and are also known as solar keratoses. They usually take the form of rough, sand-paper-like patches of skin on areas exposed to the sun such as the face, bald scalp, upper chest, back, hands and forearms. They are often red in colour, but can be tan, pink or flesh-toned.

One in ten people over the age of 40 have actinic keratoses, rising to one in four people aged 60 or over. They can progress to form skin cancer and the presence of ten AK lesions is associated with a 14% risk of developing an SCC within five years. Lesions are usually treated to prevent this happening (with topical creams or gels, cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy or surgical excision).

Now it seems that high dose vitamin B3 may prevent their recurrence.

Vitamin B3 helps to protect skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light – as seen in the fact that a severe form of dermatitis develops in sun-exposed areas in people with the B3 deficiency disease, pellagra.

In a new study, 386 Australians with a previous history of at least two skin cancers (basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, but not melanoma) within the previous 5 years were randomised to take either 500mg nicotinamide twice a day, or placebo, for 12 months. Nicotinamide was selected as, unlike the niacin form of vitamin B3, it does not cause facial flushing.

Participants were checked regularly by a dermatologist and the number of new actinic keratoses present was 11% lower in those taking nicotinamide than in the placebo group after 3 months, 14% lower at 6 months, 20% lower at 9 months and 13% lower at 12 months. Those taking nicotinamide were also 20% less likely to develop a new basal cell carcinoma over the course of the year, and 30% less likely to develop a new squamous cell carcinoma compared with those taking placebo. There were no significant differences in the development of new melanomas between the groups.

Sunscreen is also effecting in reducing the number of actinic keratoses and squamous cell carcinomas but surprisingly, even in these high risk people with a previous history of skin cancer, and living in gloriously sunny Australia, only half had used sunscreen in the week before the study started!

Check your skin regularly

Get someone else to check the parts you can’t view yourself, or invest in an annual visit to a Mole Clinic where a trained nurse will check your skin for you. If you find a persistent skin lesion, get it checked by your doctor, especially if it shows signs of change (getting bigger, or becoming more scaly, darker, rougher, itching, crusty, developing raised or rolled edges, bleeding etc).

For more information about sun damage, actinic keratosis and how to check your skin, visit

Image credits: byrev/pixabay

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Dr Sarah Brewer
QUORA EXPERT - TOP WRITER 2018 Dr Sarah Brewer MSc (Nutr Med), MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, RNutr, MBANT, CNHC Cert IoD qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine and Surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master's degree in nutritional medicine from the University of Surrey. Sarah is a registered Medical Doctor, a registered Nutritionist and a registered Nutritional Therapist. She is an award winning author of over 70 popular self-help books and a columnist for Prima magazine.

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