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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Vitamin D Deficiency Could Put Women at Risk for Breast Cancer

- May 19, 2011

Women who lack vitamin D may be at greater risk for the most aggressive breast cancer and expect a poorer prognosis, new research suggests.

The study, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, is one of the first to examine vitamin D and breast cancer progression.

Researchers found that cancers known to be more aggressive, such as triple-negative tumors correlated with low vitamin D levels. Triple-negative cancers are often associated with younger women and minority women. The study also found that both premenopausal women and black women tended to have sub-optimal vitamin D levels, compared to older, Caucasian women.

“This is one of the first studies to really look at the relationship between vitamin D and progression of breast cancer,” said Jason Stevens, a clinical dietician at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Okla.

In addition, a strong inverse correlation was found between decreasing vitamin D levels and increasing Oncotype scores. And finally, patients with invasive cancer, versus women with in-situ or stage 0 disease, also were more likely to have less than optimal vitamin D levels.

Many physicians already monitor cancer patients and healthy people for vitamin D. Last fall the Institute of Medicine (IOM) announced new daily recommended intakes of vitamin D for nearly all adults and children in the United States and Canada.

Although the IOM did not specifically address vitamin D and cancer, it reported that 600 IUs daily meets the needs of most people. Higher amounts are often prescribed to cancer patients; sometimes a weekly dose of 50,000 IU is necessary to treat severely deficient people.

Stevens suggests that current breast cancer patients talk to their physicians about getting their vitamin D levels checked.

“If their level is found to below, they should discuss supplementation options to bring their level back to normal,” he said. “They should then have their level checked again to ensure the supplementation is working appropriately.”

While further research is needed to explore the biological basis of the relationship between D and tumor markers, researchers suggest that this study highlights the importance of obtaining vitamin D levels in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Growing evidence suggests that maintaining an adequate vitamin D level may be important to women for both breast cancer prevention and treatment, and women should discuss vitamin D with their clinical care team to ensure they are getting the best treatment based on their individual needs,” Stevens said.