The key nutrients for preventing basal cell carcinoma are antioxidants. A typical daily supplementation program to support skin health for a prolonged period with no new basal cell skin cancers would include:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): 400 milligrams per day during the summer.
- Selenium: 200 micrograms per day.
- Vitamin C: 1,000 mg per day.
- Vitamin E: 400 IU per day. Also, if you exercise in the sun during the summer,
- R-lipoic acid with biotin, 100 mg per day.
Laboratory experiments with skin cells have found that providing the cells with selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E before exposure to ultraviolet light greatly reduces the amount of DNA damage. Even after exposure to sunlight, selenium and vitamin E help the skin make glutathione, which in turn stops the process through which sunlight causes apoptosis, the initiation of skin cell death. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), vitamin C, and vitamin E work together to protect p53, the gene that ensures that cells repair defects in their DNA before multiplying.
Additional supplements may be needed for people who exercise in the sun. Strenuous exercise depletes glutathione. This naturally occurring antioxidant slows inflammatory reactions and is essential to the normal function of estrogen and testosterone. Laboratory studies with animals have found that supplementation with alpha-lipoic acid keeps glutathione from breaking down, especially in the liver and in the bloodstream.
While the antioxidant supplements that fight basal cell carcinoma are largely free of side effects, there are some precautions to be observed in their use. No one in good general health should take NAC on an on-going basis. At least one long-term study suggests that the antioxidant effect of NAC can actually interfere with some of the actions of the immune system against bacteria. You should only use NAC during your allergy season, or, if you have allergies all year round, for no more than 3 months at a time. Smokers who have had bronchitis for 2 years or less should not take NAC unless they are quitting. There is some evidence that NAC may activate eosinophils, the white blood cells that may cause the progression of smoker’s cough to emphysema.
Selenium is better absorbed if it is not taken at the same time as vitamin C. Vitamin C taken in the form of vitamin C with bioflavonoids can interfere with the liver’s ability to process statin drugs for controlling cholesterol, calcium channel blockers for hypertension such as nifedipine (Procardia), or cyclosporine for preventing transplant rejection. Vitamin E should be used with caution by those who take blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix).
Other Ways to Reduce Recurrence of Basal Cell Skin Cancers
Sun exposure and sunbathing produce gradual skin damage even if sunburn is avoided. Ten to forty years can pass between the time of sun exposure and the development of skin cancer.
Put on sun screen with an SPF of 15 or higher everyday before leaving the house.
Don’t go overboard and try to avoid the sun completely. Sun avoidance depletes the body’s supply of vitamin D and, ironically, can increase the risk of skin cancer.
People who have had a basal cell carcinoma should have a skin exam at the dermatologist's office every 6 months to 1 year.
Do not try to remove basal cell carcinomas by “rubbing them off.” Some portion of the cancer will remain in the skin, and breaking the skin increases the risk of infection.
Basal cell carcinoma almost never spreads throughout the body. Another form of skin cancer known squamous cell carcinoma, however, sometimes does. Take care of the "pre-cancerous" form of squamous cell carcinoma known as actinic keratosis early by making sure you see a dermatologist at least every other year after the age of 40, even if you have no history of skin cancer at all.
You may also be interested in my latest article on curcumin for skin cancer.