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July 18, 2008

Study finds high incidence of vitamin D insufficiency in women diagnosed with breast cancer

Study finds high incidence of vitamin D insufficiency in breast cancer survivors

In article published in the July, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the National Cancer Institute, and other research centers report a high incidence of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency among female breast cancer survivors.

The current study utilized data from 790 participants in the multiethnic Health, Eating, Activity, and Lifestyle (HEAL) study of breast cancer patients, which sought to determine the effect of diet, hormones, and other factors on breast cancer prognosis and survival. Blood samples collected within three years following the participants’ breast cancer diagnosis were analyzed for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels, the primary biomarker used to evaluate vitamin D status. Dietary questionnaires were used to obtain information concerning vitamin D intake levels from food and supplements.

Few women were found to have levels of vitamin D of at least 32 nanograms per milliliter that are sufficient for optimal health. Insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D were detected in 75.6 percent of the participants, with African-American women experiencing the lowest levels. Women who had been diagnosed with localized or regional breast cancer had lower vitamin D levels than those with in situ (noninvasive) disease. Only a quarter of the women reported using supplements.

In their discussion, the authors note that some evidence suggests an association between vitamin D status and survival in breast cancer and other cancer patients. Vitamin D regulates cell growth, induces programmed cell death, reduces proliferation and enhances immune response throughout the body. The vitamin is especially important for chemotherapy patients due to the drugs’ side effect of lowered immune function. The current study may be of particular significance to African American patients due to their lower levels of the vitamin and poor breast cancer survival rates.

Concerning the lower levels of vitamin D found in participants with local or regional stage breast cancer in comparison with women with in situ disease, the authors remark that vitamin D deficiency before diagnosis could result in the advancement of early, noninvasive lesions due to a reduction in the antiproliferative and antimetastatic properties of vitamin D noted in other studies.

“Vitamin D therapy could be a useful, cost-effective treatment for breast cancer patients,” the authors write. “Clinicians may want to consider testing their breast cancer patients for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and to offer appropriate recommendations, if necessary, to improve vitamin D status.”

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Breast cancer

Vitamin A and vitamin D3 inhibit breast cancer cell division and can induce cancer cells to differentiate into mature, noncancerous cells. Vitamin D3 works synergistically with tamoxifen (and melatonin) to inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation. The vitamin D3 receptor as a target for breast cancer prevention was examined. Preclinical studies demonstrated that vitamin D compounds could reduce breast cancer development in animals. Furthermore, human studies indicate that both vitamin D status and genetic variations in the vitamin D3 receptor (VDR) may affect breast cancer risk. Findings from cellular, molecular and population studies suggest that the VDR is a nutritionally modulated growth-regulatory gene that may represent a molecular target for chemoprevention of breast cancer (Welsh et al. 2003).

Vitamin E is the term used to describe eight naturally occurring essential fat-soluble nutrients: alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherols plus a class of compounds related to vitamin E called alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocotrienols. Vitamin E from dietary sources may provide women with modest protection from breast cancer.

Vitamin E succinate, a derivative of fat-soluble vitamin E, has been shown to inhibit tumor cell growth in vitro and in vivo (Turley et al. 1997; Cameron et al. 2003). In estrogen receptor-negative human breast cancer cell lines vitamin E succinate inhibited growth and induced cell death. Since vitamin E is considered the main chain breaking lipophilic antioxidant in plasma and tissue, its role as a potential chemopreventive agent and its use in the adjuvant treatment of aggressive human breast cancers appears reasonable. Those with estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancers should consider taking 800-1200 IU of vitamin E succinate a day.

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