06/20/2012 08:29 am ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

Sun Sensitivity Linked To Decreased Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Study Suggests

Scientists have found a potential link between sun exposure and sun sensitivity and a decreased risk of one kind of cancer, according to new research.

A study presented at the pancreatic cancer meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research showed that people who are born in places where they are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet rays, people whose skin is sensitive to the sun (in that they burn easily) and people who have had a history of skin cancer also possess a lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

This year in the United States, there are expected to be 43,920 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 37,390 deaths from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Known risk factors for the cancer include being overweight/obese, being African-American, having a family history of the disease, having pancreatitis, having diabetes, smoking, and having genetic risks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The study included 714 people in Queensland, Australia, who were asked about their skin color, sun sensitivity, tanning sensitivity, medical history, birth place and skin cancer history. They were compared with 709 controls.

The researchers found that people who were born in areas that had high UV radiation were also the ones who had the 24 percent decreased risk of pancreatic cancer. This is compared with people who lived in the areas that had low UV radiation.

They also found that people whose skin was considered "sun sensitive" -- meaning they burned easily, but didn't tan easily -- had a 49 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer. People with a skin cancer history also had a 40 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer.

The researchers suggested that vitamin D levels may have soothing to do with it -- since sun exposure prompts our bodies to produce vitamin D. But study researcher Rachel Neale, Ph.D., of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, told HuffPost that there may be something else in the sun's rays at work, too, and that more research would be needed to see if dietary vitamin D had this same effect on pancreatic cancer risk as vitamin D produced by our bodies in response to sun.

"We need to be carefully by saying that we can replicate the effects of the sun by popping a pill or eating more fish," she told The Huffington Post.

However, Neale cautioned that people shouldn't sit outside in the sun during high-UV times without any sun protection, because of the risk of skin cancer.

"Where I live, where the UV is high all year round, we are still saying in winter that you need to be cautious about sun exposure and avoiding being in the sun during the high UV parts of the day," Neale said.

She added that more research needs to be completed to fully understand the link between sun exposure and pancreatic cancer risk, considering her study was just an observational study -- no causal relationship has been proven.

"We need to understand more about those two things before we start making public health recommendations," Neale said.