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Cancer Health Center

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Getting Some Sun May Fight Blood Cancer

Protective Effect From Vitamin D Suspected
WebMD Health News

March 31, 2004 -- People who report more occasional sun exposure are less likely to get a mysterious kind of blood cancer.

The finding suggests that vitamin D production in the skin -- linked to modest amounts of sun exposure -- is an important cancer-fighting nutrient.

That's not what Bruce Armstrong, MD, PhD, of the University of Sydney, Australia, expected to find. Armstrong, an authority on the causes of skin cancer, says he expected to find that the more time people spent in the sun, the more likely they would be to get non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases are on the rise in the industrialized world, but nobody knows what causes it.

Instead, Armstrong and colleagues found that women and men who got the most sun exposure during their off-work hours had the lowest risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Armstrong reported the findings at this week's annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Fla.

"This is an unexpected finding," Armstrong said in a news conference. "What might be causing it? The obvious answer is that vitamin D synthesized in the skin from sun exposure is causing this effect. There is increasing evidence that vitamin D has protective effects against many cancers. The evidence for colorectal cancer protection is pretty solid."

Fun in the Sun

Armstrong's team polled more than 700 20- to 74-year-old Australian men and women with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and about 700 matched people without cancer. Study participants estimated their working, non-working, and vacation hours of sun exposure at ages 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. Earlier studies showed that people give accurate estimates of sun exposure.

The researchers found that the people in their study who spent the most time in the sun had 35% less non-Hodgkin's lymphoma than those who spent the least time in the sun. Most of this effect was seen in women.

But it doesn't take much sun to stimulate vitamin D production in the skin. Vitamin D production cuts off after a small amount of sun exposure. So Armstrong's team looked at occasional sun exposure during off-work hours. And that's where they saw the strongest effects. The risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma dropped by 60% in women with the most off-work sun exposure. It dropped by 40% in men with the most off-work sun exposure.

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