How sensible sun exposure helps prevent pancreatic cancer
A recent study showed individuals living in sunny countries near the equator had only one-sixth the incidence of pancreatic cancer compared to those that live in cloudier climates farther away from the equator. The study, published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, looked at data from 107 countries and factored in additional risk factors such as alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking.
“If you’re living at a high latitude or in a place with a lot of heavy cloud cover, you can’t make vitamin D most of the year, which results in a higher-than-normal risk of getting pancreatic cancer,” said lead author Cedric Garland, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.
According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, approximately 48,960 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and as many as 40,560 people will die of it. In the UK, 8,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually. Europe and North America have the highest incidence of pancreatic cancer, while Africa and Asia have the least.
It is often difficult to diagnose, as symptoms may not occur until the tumor has become very advanced. Symptoms can include pain in the back or stomach, excessive and unexpected weight loss, and yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
The pancreas is an organ in the digestive system that sits in front of the spine just above the belly button. It performs two main functions. It makes insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and it makes enzymes which help break down proteins.
UVB light and vitamin D
Research testing the use of solar ultraviolet B (UVB) light to produce vitamin D for individuals with pancreatic cancer showed:
There was a lower incidence and death rate from pancreatic cancer in people exposed to higher levels of solar UVB light. They researched the effects of UVB light during an entire lifetime. There have been similar results in Japan and the United States.
People who live in warm, sunny climates produce adequate levels of vitamin D. They have a higher risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. But they have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer.
Two Harvard studies also found a correlation between vitamin D and pancreatic cancer:
One documented people taking 150 vs. 600 international units (IU) (3.8 vs. 15 mcg) of vitamin D per day. There was a 40% lower cancer risk in people who took more vitamin D.
The second study showed a 35% lower risk for those with higher vitamin D blood levels.
Studies including breast, colon and rectal cancer showed vitamin D levels above 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) reduce the risk of cancer. Maintaining vitamin D blood levels above 40 ng/mL may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Taking 1,000-4,000 international units (IU) (25-100 mcg) of vitamin D per day may be associated with reduced pancreatic cancer risk.
Statistics show that people with higher vitamin D levels recorded at the time of their cancer diagnosis have a higher survival rate. This is also found to be true for people with many types of cancer. The results of the research suggest that increasing vitamin D levels after cancer diagnosis would improve chances of survival.
In light of these discoveries, some cancer treatment centers administer at least 5,000 IU (125 mcg) of vitamin D per day to patients.