Could vitamin C treat skin cancer? USF study shows promise

As families get ready to spend more time outside this summer break, Bay Area medical professionals want to remind Floridians to stay safe in the sun and to watch for skin cancer symptoms.

"Melanoma incidences are still increasing all over the country and specifically in Florida," Moffitt Cancer Center’s Dr. Rogerio Neves said.

Neves said Moffitt Cancer Center treats melanoma cases all year round here in the Sunshine State. This type of skin cancer is commonly caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight or tanning beds.

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"And don't forget that the UV rays are reflected by the floor. So concrete, sand, or other types of ground areas may reflect (UV rays), so use sunscreen even if you are in the shade," Neves said.

According to Moffitt, the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed each year has increased steadily for the past 30 years. It is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. men and women.

Floridians should keep an eye on new moles or abnormal skin spots that change in size, shape, or color. Neves said they’re diagnosing melanoma in more and more younger people.

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"Surgery is the main treatment," Neves said. "And we have to remove the tumor so we can identify precisely how the melanoma is."

The work to discover additional effective treatments never ends. In fact, University of South Florida researchers are now focusing on something Floridians are already pretty familiar with: vitamin C.

"What we discovered is that you could use vitamin C specifically to target the melanoma cells," Dr. Marcus Cooke, chair of USF’s department of molecular biosciences, told FOX 13.

Cooke and his team found that vitamin C increases the amount of DNA damage in melanoma cells "and then ultimately kills them."

Their studies also found that vitamin C boosted the effectiveness of an existing melanoma drug, Elesclomol.

In the future, vitamin C would likely need to be used topically, such as in a cream, to treat melanoma – not by drinking more orange juice, Cooke said.

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While more studies and clinical trials need to be done, vitamin C’s potential as effective treatment against melanoma appears promising.

"It's always had a kind of preventative role. But now this looks like it could have a role in treatment," Cooke said.