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Exposure to sunlight reduces risk of prostate cancer

Researchers from three Cancer Centers measured sunlight exposure in men and found that increased exposure to sunlight may decrease the risk of prostate cancer.

"We believe that sunlight helps to reduce the risk of prostate cancer because the body manufactures the active form of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight," said Esther John, of the Northern California Cancer Center.

Previous research by Gary G. Schwartz, of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University, and his colleagues had shown that the prostate uses vitamin D to promote the normal growth of prostate cells and to inhibit the invasiveness and spread of prostate cancer cells to other parts of the body.

" The genes involved are those that determine the type of vitamin D receptors a person has," said Schwartz. " These receptors, which function with vitamin D like a lock and key, vary in their ability to bind vitamin D and thus to influence cell behavior."

Researchers stressed that sunlight is not the only source of vitamin D, and that men should not try to reduce their risk of prostate cancer by sunbathing because that increases the risk of sun-induced skin cancer, especially melanoma.

" If future studies continue to show reductions in prostate cancer risk associated with sun exposure, increasing vitamin D intake from diet and supplements may be the safest solution to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D," they said.

The researchers compared 450 non-Hispanic white patients in the San Francisco Bay area who had advanced prostate cancer with a matched control group of 455 men who did not have prostate cancer.

They defined advanced prostate cancer as cancer that had penetrated through the prostate capsule either to the same region of the body or spread to distant sites.

Researchers measured sun exposure by comparing pigmentation of underarm skin, which is usually not exposed to sunlight, with forehead pigmentation, which is, using a portable reflectometer.

Because it is hard for the sun to reach the underarm area, there was no difference in the underarm measurement between the prostate cancer cases and the control group. But when the forehead color was compared to the underarm color, the control group had significantly darker pigmentation than the cancer patients.

" Increasing darkness was associated with a trend of decreasing risk of prostate cancer," they said. Researchers also obtained a sun exposure history from each participant so they could track outdoor activity.

" Reduced risk of advanced prostate cancer was associated with high sun exposure determined by reflectometry and high occupational outdoor activity," they said. " Further studies in large populations, including non-whites, are warranted to confirm the combined effects of sun exposure and genotype and define the exposure period that is important in influencing prostate cancer risk."

Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, 2005