A form of vitamin B3 found in products such as Vegemite and beer was found key in lowering skin cancer risk.
According to University of Sydney researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, a year of treatment using nicotinamide significantly reduced the risk of common, non-melanoma skin cancer among patients who were high-risk.
The findings showed the potential of nicotinamide – a safe and cheap over-the-counter solution available in most countries – in helping mitigate the costly burden of skin cancer, which has the highest incidence in Australia.
In the study of 386 subjects with skin cancer history and who took nicotinamide twice a day for a year, supplementation reduced new non-melanoma skin cancer cases by 23 percent and slashed the occurrence of precancerous sun spots by about 15 percent.
Senior study author Dr. Diona Damian, dermatology professor at the University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, considered this the first clear evidence that skin cancers can be prevented through combining a simple vitamin and "sensible sun protection."
Sun exposure remains the main culprit behind non-melanoma skin cancer, which continues to increase worldwide despite sun protection advice. In Australia, the condition affects over half of the population, costing the nation over $500 million each year and afflicting the population four times as other cancers combined do.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of this skin cancer. The former rarely spreads, but can be a cosmetic problem as it typically appears on the face, while the latter can metastasize to lymph nodes and internal body organs.
Nicotinamide exhibited "comparable efficacy" in preventing both of them.
The research suggested that nicotinamide enhances DNA repair in sunlight-damaged skin cells and protects skin's immunity from UV radiation through an energy boost for cells during their after-sun repair time.
American Society of Clinical Oncology president Dr. Peter Yu said that these findings may offer a major anti-cancer tool to doctors. "[T]his is a major advance for us," he said pertaining to cancer prevention instead of mere treatment.