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Dr. Campbell: Vitamin D and breast cancer survival

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Past studies have claimed that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of heart disease, bone fractures and even depression. Now, new research suggests that it may even have an impact on breast cancer survival.

New research shows that cancer patients with high levels of the vitamin in their blood are twice as likely to survive the disease than patients with low levels.

So what is Vitamin D? Well, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous in our bones.

The body’s main source of the vitamin is from the sun, but some foods such as oil fish, eggs and fortified fat spreads contain the vitamin in very small amounts. Supplements are also available.

Past studies revealed an association between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of breast cancer. Based on these findings, researchers at University of California, San Diego decided to lan ook at the link between 25-hydroxyvitamin D - a metabolite that the body produces from vitamin D ingestion - and survival rates of breast cancer.

Researchers pooled data from multiple studies. These studies included a total of 4,443 patients with breast cancer and were performed between 1966 and 2010. All patients were followed for an average of nine years. Patients were divided into groups dependent on the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood.

Women in the "high" group had an average of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood, while women in the "low" group had an average of 17 ng/ml in their blood. The average blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D for breast cancer patients in the U.S. is 17 ng/ml.

The team found that women who had high levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood had around a 50 percent lower fatality rate compared with women who had low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood.

Researchers believe vitamin D decreases fatality rates for breast cancer patients because vitamin D metabolites increase communication between cells by activating a protein that halts aggressive cell division. Cancer is due to the rapid and uncontrolled growth of cells—therefore by halting growth, the vitamin D actually inhibits the tumor cells from dividing, developing a blood supply and spreading to other parts of the body.

The National Institutes of Health recommend that adults up to the age of 70 should have a vitamin D intake of 600 IU each day, while those over 70 should have 800 IU each day. More research is needed to confirm and further explain these finding but there is no reason we shouldn’t go ahead and treat cancer patients with vitamin D—there is no harm.

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