Vitamin supplement can reduce skin cancer recurrence risk

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A vitamin supplement, nicotinamide, reduces recurrence of common skin cancers by 23%.

This is exciting. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa according to CANSA. The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). In third place is malignant melanoma, which is the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

A clinical trial with 386 participants, compared 500mg of Vitamin B3 taken twice a day for 12 months with placebo. The study showed a statistically significant reduction in new skin cancer development in patients with previous skin cancer. Nicotinamide also reduced the rates of actinic keratoses (precancers) by by approximately 15% after 12 months of treatment compared with placebo.


The sun’s UV rays can damage the genetic material (the DNA) in your skin cells. It can also suppress the skin’s immune system and limit its ability to eradicate abnormal UV-damaged cells. If enough DNA damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.

Certain skin types are at higher risk for sun damage. The Fitzpatrick classification of skin type is based on how easily your skin burns in the sun. Lower Fitzpatrick skin types typically have fair skins, red or blonde hair with skin that sun burns really quickly. Such skin types are at higher risk of developing skin cancers. Take the Fitzpatrick skin test for yourself.

Once you have had one skin cancer the chance is about 50% to develop another skin cancer within 5 years. This represents a 10- fold increase in risk compared to the general population.


Prevention is better than cure and fortunately you can do something to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer:

Stay in the shade (especially when the sun is hottest between 10:00 and 15:00 in South Africa)

Cover up – wear a hat, sun-glasses, and cover your skin

Use sunscreen of at least an SPF factor 30 with both UVA and UVB cover

Spray tan – because there is no such thing as a “healthy” sun tan

Sun-beds and tanning booths use concentrated UV radiation and should be avoided

Spot check regularly for new or changing skin spots, moles or marks. See your doctor if you spot something suspicious on your skin.


Nicotinamide is a water soluble type of Vitamin B3. It works by enhancing the repair of DNA damage in human skin and it has potential to prevent UV-induced immune suppression.

Nicotinamide is taken as a daily oral supplement. It is safe but should not be confused with niacin, another form of vitamin B3 which does have side effects such as headaches and flushing. It is simple and inexpensive way to avoid repeat diagnoses of BCCs and SCCs in high-risk patients (with previous skin cancers).

This gives us an additional tool in the management of common skin cancers. But remember that it cannot replace your every day sun safe behaviour and regular skin spot check-ups.



N Engl J Med. 2015 Oct 22;373(17):1618-26. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1506197. A Phase 3 Randomized Trial of Nicotinamide for Skin-Cancer Chemoprevention. Chen AC, Martin AJ, Choy B, Fernández-Peñas P, Dalziell RA, McKenzie CA, Scolyer RA, Dhillon HM, Vardy JL, Kricker A, St George G, Chinniah N, Halliday GM, Damian DL.

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