Can diet really help reduce skin cancer risk? The answer, according to study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of Dermatology, is yes.

Increased vitamin A from foods, especially, was linked to lower rates of a malignant skin cancer in the more than 100,000 people studied. Rates of skin cancer have tripled in the past three decades, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer within their lifetime. Prevention and early treatment is crucial due to how quickly and easily this cancer can spread throughout the body.

Why vitamin A is so important

Vitamin A is linked to other various health benefits which include aiding in immune, bone, vision growth and reproductive health as well as protection from UV rays. In addition to helping with skin protection, vitamin A is critical to eye health. It aids in prevention of night blindness and reduces the risk for macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. The fat-soluble vitamin can act as a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals, a risk factor for premature aging and chronic disease.

This new study found that vitamin A intake was associated with a reduced risk of developing cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, a type of malignant skin cancer, in a review of the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study that collected data on over 120,000, mostly white, men and women. SCC is more common in fair-skinned individuals and often affects people in areas where sun exposure is common. Several previous studies have shown that vitamin A can help in the prevention of other cancers, as well. Researchers believe the benefit may come from the how vitamin A works on a cellular level.

Vitamin A from produce may lower risk

According to the nonprofit organization and advocacy group Skin Cancer Foundation, “Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer,” with doctors diagnosing over 1 million cases each year in the United States alone. Because this form of cancer is so common, it is important to find better preventive strategies to lower people’s risk of developing it.

Over a follow-up period of more than 26 years, the researchers documented a total of 3,978 skin cancer cases among participants in both of these study groups. The researchers were also able to find out information regarding the participants’ intake of vitamin A thanks to detailed surveys that the participants in the two study groups had filled out once every 4 years, approximately.

Based on their analysis, the researchers found that participants who were on the higher end of the spectrum, in terms of vitamin A intake, seemed to have a lower risk of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.

“In this large prospective study of U.S. women and men, we found that higher intake of total vitamin A, retinol, and several individual carotenoids, including beta cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and lutein and zeaxanthin was associated with lower risk of [squamous cell carcinoma],” the investigators write in their study paper.

Most of the vitamin A in these cases came from food sources, especially vegetables, not from dietary supplements.

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