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Daily use of β carotene supplements did not prevent skin cancer, but daily sunscreen use reduced the incidence of squamous cell carcinomas

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 QUESTION: In healthy adults, does the daily use of sunscreen or β carotene supplements prevent skin cancer?


Randomised (allocation concealed*), blinded (outcome assessor),* placebo controlled trial with a 2×2 factorial design and 4.5 year follow up.


Subtropical Queensland, Australia.


1621 participants (mean age 49 y, 56% women) who were 20 to 69 years of age when they completed a skin cancer survey in 1986, had completed a second survey in 1992, and had a complete skin examination by a dermatologist with removal of all diagnosed tumours of the skin. Follow up was 85%.


Participants were allocated to 1 of 4 groups: daily use of sun protection factor 15 plus broad spectrum sunscreen (to cover exposed sites on head, neck, arms, and hands) and β carotene, one 30 mg tablet/day (n=404); daily sunscreen and placebo tablets (n=408); β carotene …

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  • Sources of funding: National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. Sunscreen supplied by Ross Cosmetics Australia and Woolworths Limited. β carotene supplements and placebo supplied by Roche Vitamins and Fine Chemicals.

  • For correspondence: Professor A Green, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, PO Royal Brisbane Hospital, Queensland 4029, Australia. Fax +61 7 3362 0101.

  • * See glossary.