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Miracle Pill? Fish Oils May Be Able to Help Prevent Skin Cancer

Update Date: Feb 26, 2013 12:35 PM EST

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, striking about 66,000 people every year. Despite the fact that public health experts and doctors have been good at getting the word out about wearing sunscreen, many people do not wear sunscreen unless it is summertime and they are on vacation - and many times, when people do apply sunscreen, they do so inadequately. Now, researchers may have a new ally in the prevention of skin cancer: fish oil. Researchers found that the omega-3s in fish oil were able to boost the body's ability to fight skin cancer and infection.

The study, administered by researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, was conducted with 79 healthy volunteers. Half of the volunteers were given an omega-3 tablet which, with 4 grams of the substance, amounted to one and a half portions of oily fish. The other half of volunteers were given a placebo pill. Then, using a special light machine, the researchers exposed the volunteers to the equivalent of 8, 15 or 30 minutes of the Manchester sun.

In humans, the ultraviolet rays in sunlight have the ability to suppress the body's immune system to fight against infection and cancer. The study found that people who took the placebo pill saw a 50 percent bump in their immune system reaction against the sunlight. However, the study found that the benefit was brief, only appearing in people who were exposed to the sun for 8 to 15 minutes. The benefit nearly entirely disappeared when volunteers were exposed to 30 minutes of sunlight.

"This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer," Professor Lesley Rhodes said in a statement. "Although the changes we found when someone took the oil were small, they suggest that a continuous low level of chemoprevention from taking omega-3 could reduce the risk of skin cancer over an individual's lifetime."

The researchers stress that omega-3 would not be able to replace sunscreen, but it would allow an extra level of protection.

Previous studies have also found that omega-3 has a range of health benefits, like protection against cardiovascular disease.

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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