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Best Tests March 2007

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Sun protection messages, vitamin D and skin cancer: out of the frying pan and into the fire?

The “vitamin D story”, in which sun exposure is known to cause skin cancers while vitamin D is thought to provide protection against other cancers, is one example where health consumers will need the guidance of health professionals in making an informed decision.

The challenge, given current levels of evidence, is to provide a public health message that ensures skin cancer risk is minimised while taking a precautionary approach to the possible harms of insufficient circulating levels of vitamin D.

In the interim, the effect of current campaigns and media reports about vitamin D on sun-protective behaviours and sunburn rates should be monitored carefully, sun-safe practices should be encouraged and supplements used where necessary until we increase our basic understanding of the relationships between chronic disease, vitamin D and sunlight.

Reference: Janda M, Kimlin MG, Whiteman DC, et al. Sun protection messages, vitamin D and skin cancer: out of the frying pan and into the fire? MJA 2007; 186 (2): 52-53.

Key points when considering vitamin D deficiency and sun exposure are:

  • ‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap’ continue to be important safe sun messages
  • Sun screen will block vitamin D exposure
  • Most people require only 5-10 minutes of sunlight, 2-3 times per week to produce sufficient vitamin D
  • People with darker skin may require more exposure
  • Older people may require more exposure
  • For patients who can not increase sun exposure, supplementation should be considered.
  • Recommended dose is a single tablet of cholecholciferol 1.25 mg (50 000 IU) monthly by mouth. This dose is effective and not associated with risk of toxicity.

A patient information leaflet on Vitamin D and sun exposure is available for your practice from www.bpac.org.nz