More evidence links sun exposure to decreased pancreatic cancer risk

Researchers from Australia looked to the bright side and found that the degree of ultraviolet radiation present at an individual’s birth location, sun-sensitive skin and a lineage of skin cancer can all decrease one’s chances of developing pancreatic cancer in their lifetime.

Results from a study conducted in Queensland, Australia from 2007 to 2011 were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges conference today by principle investigator, Rachel Neale, PhD, Queensland Institute of Medical Research. A subject pool of 715 Queensland residents were recruited for the population-based, case control study and then partnered with 709 control participants on the basis of age and sex. All those involved in the study were interviewed about respective medical histories and socio-demographic information; participants were also queried in regard to the location of their birth, skin type (defined by skin color), skin cancer history, tanning abilities and predisposition to sunburn.

Neale and her research team utilized the NASA Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer to split birthplace locations into three subgroups based on the level of ultraviolet radiation present. The study found that subjects were 24 percent less likely to get pancreatic cancer if they were born in the areas with the uppermost gradation of ultraviolet radiation. Moreover, those classified with ultra sun-sensitive skin were found to have a 49 percent decrease in risk for pancreatic cancer when compared to those identified as having the least sun-sensitive skin. Participants with a history of skin cancer or other skin-related impairments had a 40 percent lower risk for the disease when contrasted with those who did not report a history of skin lesions. 

"There is increasing interest in the role of sun exposure, which has been largely attributed to the effect of vitamin D, on cancer incidence and mortality," Neale explained. "It is important that we understand the risks and benefits of sun exposure because it has implications for public health messages about sun exposure, and possibly about policy related to vitamin D supplementation or food fortification."

Neale suggested that future study should be done on serum vitamin D; studies intent on obtaining comprehensive measurements of sun exposure were also advised. "There are several trials of vitamin D that are either under way or planned, and pooling data from these might give some clue about vitamin D and pancreatic cancer," she said.

The results of Neale’s study, titled “Association between ambient ultraviolet radiation at birth, skin type, skin cancer history, and pancreatic cancer” reiterate sentiments about decreased pancreatic cancer risk in relation to sun exposure found in existing ecological studies. Thus, physicians should look to emerging research about pancreatic cancer risk linked with vitamin D and treat their patients accordingly. 

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