Sunshine vitamin ups bowel cancer survival odds

Bowel cancer patients with high levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to survive the disease, a study shows.

Patients with the highest levels of vitamin D have half the risk of dying compared with those with the lowest levels, findings reveal. The study is the first to correlate total blood levels of vitamin D in bowel cancer patients after their diagnosis – which includes that produced after exposure to sunlight and that obtained from dietary sources – with their long term survival prospects.

The University of Edinburgh team tested blood samples from almost 1600 patients after surgery for bowel cancer. The greatest benefit of vitamin D was seen in patients with stage 2 disease, at which the tumour may be quite large but the cancer has not yet spread.Researchers found that three quarters of the patients with the highest vitamin D levels were still alive at the end of five years, compared with less than two thirds of those with the lowest levels.

The results show that vitamin D is associated with a much better chance of cancer survival, although the nature of this relationship is not clear from this study. The study’s authors aim to set up a clinical trial to test whether taking vitamin D tablets in combination with chemotherapy can improve bowel cancer survival rates. Measuring vitamin D levels in bowel cancer patients could also provide a useful indication of prognosis, the scientists say.

Professor Malcolm Dunlop, of the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our findings are promising but it is important to note that this is an observational study. We need carefully designed randomised clinical trials before we can confirm whether taking vitamin D supplements offers any survival benefit for bowel cancer patients.”

Zgaga et al., (2014). Plasma Vitamin D Concentration Influences Survival Outcome After a Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer. J. Clin. Oncol., EPub Ahead of Print,  doi:10.1200/JCO.2013.54.5947 [Abstract]

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