Can sunlight protect you against some types of skin cancer? Researchers don’t completely understand all the facts but a new study is suggesting that a few minutes of sun exposure every day may actually prevent some forms of skin cancer.
Can Sunlight Actually Prevent Skin Cancer?
In 2005 a study led by Dr. Marianne Berwick, chief of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico’s Cancer Research and Treatment Center, rocked skin cancer research to its very core by suggesting that melanoma patients who experienced daily sun exposure actually had better survival rates than melanoma patients who avoided the sun. “I’ve been searching for an explanation for that ever since,” Dr. Berwick said.
Dr. Berwick’s explanation may lie, at least in part, in the results of a study published in the March 2007 issue of the journal Nature Immunology. In this study, led by immunologists from Stanford University, researchers looked at a biochemical chain reaction that begins with a substance doctors call “D3”.
How Sunlight Protects Against Skin Cancer
In the body, short-wavelength sunlight–the rays known as UVB rays–work with your skin to produce a precursor of vitamin D–a compound researchers call D3. When D3 meets up with the various enzymes in your liver and kidneys, a new compound called 1,25(OH)2D3 is produced. This new chemical stimulates your body’s T-cells to begin a migration to your skin’s outer layer where they act as watchmen against infections and, possibly, the development of skin cancer.
How Much Sun Do You Really Need?
Doctors have long recognized the need for at least some sunlight. After all, for the vast majority of us, sunlight is our main source of vitamin D. But sun exposure has also been linked to several types of skin cancer. Where do you draw the line when it comes to getting enough sun to be healthy?
It’s important to realize that no one is suggesting that you bake yourself in your backyard. A spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association believes that most of us can get all the sun we need in less than 30 minutes.
Is This Really Good News?
Only your doctor is qualified to give you medical advice and if you’re at an increased risk for any type of skin cancer, talking to your primary care physician is especially important. But since vitamin D (and the sunlight you body uses to make it) has been linked to issues from healthy bones to a decreased risk of colon cancer, it’s worth discussing with a qualified health provider.