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Vitamin D deficiency versus skin cancer

With so much recent evidence for adverse effects of low vitamin D levels, we blithely encourage our patients to get out into the sun as much as possible, for the good of their health. Unlike our colleagues in Australia and the southern USA, we in northern Europe don’t worry too much about the other side of the coin, skin cancer risk. But should we? It’s rare in childhood, but malignant melanoma in young adults is becoming more prevalent, and early ultra-violet (UV) light exposure can increase risk. Researchers looked at 32 Polish children aged 8 to 10 years who enjoyed a 12-day July beach holiday on the Baltic Sea (Narbutt J et al. Br J Dermatol 2018. doi: 10.1111/bjd.16668). Before and after, they measured serum 25-hydroxy-vitamin D3 levels, as well as urinary cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPD), specifically thymine dimer. These substances are produced when ultraviolet radiation damages DNA, and are said to correlate with skin cancer risk.

They found, as expected, a significant increase in 25-OH-VitD3 levels (from mean 65 to 79 nmol/L; p<0.001). More worryingly, they also found a 10-fold, highly significant increase in urinary CPD excretion (p<0.001). Those with fairer skin …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.