Veiled nutrition: Skin cancer precautions can result in vitamin D deficiency

salmonSpring is here and so is the sun, which is great for our spirits after a long, dreary winter, but not for our skin. Up to 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.  May 1st marks the start of Skin Cancer Awareness month so while you’re enjoying the outdoors, protect yourself from skin cancer by seeking shade during midday hours (10 am-4pm), wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, and using sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater). But did you know these precautions can result in a vitamin D deficiency?

While taking these precautions is recommended as the best prevention against skin cancer, they decrease the body’s ability to produce vitamin D for itself. For this reason, effort needs to be made to get the recommended 600-800 IU of vitamin D from food or a supplement.  Meeting your estimated daily needs for vitamin D is important because vitamin D plays many roles in the body from optimizing bone health to reducing inflammation. Current research is showing that vitamin D might play a role in the prevention and treatment of various cancers, type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension, fatigue and other medical conditions. Specifically in cancer, vitamin D plays a role in programmed cell death, as well as other cellular processes, which could explain why higher vitamin D levels have been associated with decreased cancer risk.

While consuming foods rich in vitamin D (see table 1) is recommended, it can be difficult to get enough from diet alone. Vitamin D supplementation may be needed. When choosing a vitamin D supplement, make sure to buy a product that meets the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards and avoid taking more than the recommended amount of vitamin D unless specified by your physician.

Vitamin D Content of Food IUs per serving* Percent DV**
Swordfish, cooked, 3 ounces 566 94
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces 447 75
Tuna fish, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces 154 26
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D, 1 cup 137 23
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat and whole vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 115-124 19-21
Yogurt, fortified with vitamin D, 6 ounces 80 13
Margarine, fortified, 1 tablespoon 60 10
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines 46 8
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces 42 11
Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk) 41 7
Ready to eat cereal, fortified with vitamin D, 3/4-1 cup 40 7
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce 6 1
* IUs = International Units.    ** DV = Daily Value.


salmonRegistered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.



CCC 25 years button150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.