Too little vitamin D may explain black Americans’ cancer deaths

African-Americans are 25 percent more likely to die from cancer than white Americans are, and the reasons are numerous, including lower socio-economic status, poorer access to health care, and the cancer diagnosis coming at later, more deadly stages.

Still, health experts say these factors cannot fully explain the extent of disparities in survival for the most common cancers, such as breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers.

A paper published in the current issue of the journal Dermato-Endocrinology points the finger at a seemingly obvious but overlooked culprit: the sun.

The researchers’ theory is that, in northern latitudes, the dark skin of African-Americans cannot absorb enough sunlight to generate adequate amounts of vitamin D, which is often called the “sunshine vitamin.” The body uses ultraviolet rays from the sun to manufacture vitamin D in the inner layers of the skin.

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