Cancer Patients Often Encounter Vitamin D Deficiency

Over 75% of cancer patients lack sufficient levels of vitamin D, with the lowest levels associated with more advanced forms of cancer, according to a study presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

According to lead author of the study and medical student at the Commonwealth Medical College, Thomas Churilla, only recently have studies investigated whether vitamin D has an effect on the prognosis or course of cancer. Researchers are only beginning to determine how vitamin D might shift specific cancer characteristics. The vitamin may alter the stage or extent of tumor spread, prognosis, recurrence or disease relapse, and possibly sub-types of cancer.

For the study, researchers worked to examine the vitamin D levels of patients at the Northeast Radiation Oncology Center in Dunmore, PA. The investigators were eager to see if vitamin D levels were related to any specific qualities of cancer. The study examined 160 participants with a median age of 64 years and an equal ratio of men and women. The five most frequent primary diagnoses fell into the categories of prostate, breast, lung, thyroid, and colorectal cancer.

Of all the patients examined, 77% had vitamin D levels that were described as deficient (less than 20 ng/mL) or suboptimal (20-30 ng/mL). The medium level of vitamin D was found to be 23.5 ng/mL. When acknowledging factors such as age or sex, levels of vitamin D still were below the median predicted for advanced stage disease in the patient group.

Patients discovered to be deficient in vitamin D levels were given replacement therapy, raising their levels by an average of 14.9 ng/mL.  Investigators are now examining if vitamin D supplementation has changed certain aspects of treatment or improved long-term survival outcomes.

Churchilla concludes that the benefits of vitamin D outside of improving bone health still remain controversial. However, there is mounting evidence that supports the presence of the vitamin’s role in either the prevention or prediction of cancer outcomes. Continued study will be required to gain a more clear understanding of the relationship shared by vitamin D and cancer.