Presenting the results of a trial to the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia's 2008 Annual Scientific Meeting, Associate Professor Diona Damian of the University of Sydney said tests had shown the vitamin prevented damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation by protecting the immune system.
"UV radiation in sunlight suppresses the skin's immune system and makes it more susceptible to skin cancer," Professor Damian said. "Our research found that nicotinamide can prevent the immunosuppressive effects of UV by energising cells so they maintain their immunity."
Professor Damian said the tests on volunteers using nicotinamide both as a lotion and in tablet form offered equally strong protection, against both UVB and UVA.
"Sunscreens currently provide very good protection against UVB, which causes sunburn and skin cancer, but are less effective in protecting against UVA, which can also cause skin cancer," she said. "Nicotinamide is relatively cheap to produce, so there is potential for example to incorporate it into sunscreen to boost its effectiveness against UVA.
"Nicotinamide is well tolerated, so could also be taken orally as a supplement, particularly by people who have higher susceptibility to skin cancer."
The next stage in the research, according to Professor Damian, is to see how effective nicotinamide is as a treatment for solar keratoses or sunspots, which are common lesions that sometimes progress to skin cancer. "At this very early stage the damage is not irreversible and we believe nicotinamide may be effective for both the treatment and the prevention of sunspots."