In 2014, I began taking care of a patient (see photo) who had developed over 25 basal cell carcinomas on her lower legs, which were surgically removed.She has been clear of any skin cancers in the last 2 years since starting supplementation.
Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide, is a water soluble form of vitamin B3 that has been shown to enhance the repair of UV-induced DNA damage. Nicotinamide is found naturally in meat, fish, nuts, grains, and legumes, and is a key component of the glycolysis pathway, by generating nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide for adenosine triphosphate production. Nicotinamide deficiency causes photosensitive dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia. It has been studied for its anti-inflammatory benefits as an adjunct treatment for rosacea, bullous diseases, acne, and melasma.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers are known to be caused primarily by UV radiation. The supplementation of nicotinamide orally twice daily has been shown to reduce the rate of actinic keratoses and new nonmelanoma skin cancers compared with placebo after 1 year in patients who previously had skin cancer. In the phase 3 study published in 2015, a randomized, controlled trial of 386 patients who had at least two nonmelanoma skin cancers within the previous 5-year period, oral nicotinamide 500 mg given twice daily for a 12-month period significantly reduced the number of new nonmelanoma skin cancers by 23% versus those on placebo.
The recommended dose for nicotinamide, which is available over the counter as Vitamin B3, is 500 mg twice a day. Nicotinamide should not be confused with niacin (nicotinic acid), which has been used to treat high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. There are no significant side effects from long-term use; however nicotinamide should not be used in patients with end-stage kidney disease or chronic kidney disease. (Niacin, however, can cause elevation of liver enzymes, headache, flushing, and increased blood pressure.) Nicotinamide crosses the placenta and should not be used in pregnancy as it has not been studied in pregnant populations.
We should counsel patients that this is not an oral sunscreen, and that sun avoidance, sunscreen, and yearly skin cancer checks are still the mainstay of skin cancer prevention. However, given the safety profile of nicotinamide and the protective effects, should all of our skin cancer patients be taking nicotinamide daily? In my practice they are, all of whom swear by it and have had significant reductions of both actinic keratoses and nonmelanoma skin cancers.
Dr. Talakoub and Dr. Wesley are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Talakoub. Write to them at [email protected] They had no relevant disclosures.