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4 Ways to Protect Against Skin Cancer (Other Than Sunscreen)

Source: Harvard Health Publishing, May 2018

It’s almost May and here in the Northeast, front-of-the-pharmacy aisles are filled with myriad brands and types of sunscreen. While sunscreen is essential to lowering your risk for skin cancer, there are other simple, over-the-counter options you can incorporate into your summer skin protection routine.

Nicotinamide may help prevent certain skin cancers

Nicotinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that has been shown to reduce the number of skin cancers. In a randomized controlled trial performed in Australia (published in the New England Journal of Medicine), the risks of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma were significantly reduced — by 23%. Nicotinamide has protective effects against ultraviolet damage caused by sun exposure. The vitamin is safe and can be purchased over the counter. We recommended starting the vitamin (500 mg twice a day) to all our patients with a history of a basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, or with extensive skin damage due to sun exposure. One caveat is that the vitamin must be taken continuously, as the benefits are lost once stopped.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, may have a modest effect on skin cancer prevention. A systematic review showed that the risk of squamous cell carcinoma was reduced by 15% with non-aspirin NSAIDs, and by 18% with any NSAID. Some studies of melanoma have also shown positive results; one found a 43% reduction in melanoma with continuous aspirin for five years, while other studies have failed to show any risk reduction. NSAIDs are known to inhibit an enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain, known as COX-2, which is overexpressed in squamous cell carcinomas. A limitation to many of the studies on NSAIDs in skin cancer is that the amount of NSAID taken varied. Especially at higher doses, NSAIDs are associated with other side effects, such as ulcers, and so I do not routinely recommend that my patients take these drugs to lower skin cancer risk.
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