Childhood Cancer and Sunlight – Is there a link?

Childhood cancer and sunlight, could a vitamin D deficiency be linked to childhood cancer?

Today’s article comes from scientist, journalist and health campaigner, Oliver Gillie follow him on twitter here.

childhood cancer and sunlight

At last, we have a strong clue pointing to a cause of childhood cancer – a clue which also suggests a helpful addition to treatment. The risk of cancer in childhood may be reduced if mothers get plenty of sunshine in pregnancy, believe scientists in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles*. They have found that children born in sunnier areas are less likely to develop cancer than those living in less sunny places further north, at lower altitude, or in cloudy or polluted areas.

The study

The scientists investigated more than 10,000 child cancer cases aged between 0 and 5 years and matched them with 200,000 normal control children, all born in California. They then studied measurements of UV radiation at the locations where the children lived. Babies born in areas with the highest UV exposure were less likely to develop acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, hepatoblastoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The researchers suggest that sunshine may act via the vitamin D it makes in skin. Vitamin D can protect against infections such as flu and one suggestion made by the California researchers is that vitamin D may prevent an infection that would otherwise trigger cancer. However it is also possible that vitamin D works directly by promoting differentiation of cells or by apoptosis – that is the programmed death of cells, an essential stage in development of tissues and organs.

What does it mean?

This suggests that children with cancer may be short of vitamin D and may benefit from being topped up. Family members may also be short of vitamin D and may benefit from a supplement.

What to do?

Firstly, be sure to get enough safe sunlight. Secondly, you can take a supplement. A microtablet of vitamin D is easy to swallow without water. I recommend that children from one year need 1,000 IUs. Babies need 400 IUs, which can be given as drops. The Cancer Recovery Foundation UK recommends that healthy adults take 2,000IU and those with cancer or a diagnosed deficiency take 5,000IU.

* Lombardi et al. Solar UV radiation and cancer in young children. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. online April 12, 2013