‘Higher levels of vitamin D – specifically serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D – are associated with a correspondingly reduced risk of cancer’ says Cedric Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and member of Moores Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego Health. Garland and his late brother, Frank, made the first connection between vitamin D deficiency and some cancers in 1980 when they noted populations at higher latitudes (with less available sunlight) were more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, which is produced by the body through exposure to sunshine, and experience higher rates of colon cancer. Subsequent studies by the Garlands and others found vitamin D links to other cancers, such as breast, lung and bladder.
The new PLOS ONE study sought to determine what blood level of vitamin D was required to effectively reduce cancer risk. The marker of vitamin D was 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the main form in the blood. The researchers employed a non-traditional approach, pooling analyses of two previous studies of different types: a randomized clinical trial of 1,169 women and a prospective cohort study of 1,135 women.
The researchers found that the age-adjusted cancer incidence was 1,020 cases per 100,000 person-years in the Lappe cohort and 722 per 100,000 person-years in the GrassrootsHealth cohort. Cancer incidence declined with increased 25(OH)D. Women with 25(OH)D concentrations of 40 ng/ml or greater had a 67 percent lower risk of cancer than women with levels of 20 ng/ml or less. Garland does not identify a singular, optimum daily intake of vitamin D or the manner of intake, which may be sunlight exposure, diet and/or supplementation. He said the current study simply clarifies that reduced cancer risk becomes measurable at 40 ng/ml, with additional benefit at higher levels.
“These findings support an inverse association between 25(OH)D and risk of cancer,” he said, “and highlight the importance for cancer prevention of achieving a vitamin D blood serum concentration above 20 ng/ml, the concentration recommended by the IOM for bone health.”
Garland said a broad effort to increase 25(OH)D concentrations to a minimum of 40 ng/ml in the general population would likely and substantially reduce cancer incidence and associated mortality.
“Primary prevention of cancer, rather than expanding early detection or improving treatment, will be essential to reversing the current upward trend of cancer incidence worldwide,” the researchers wrote. “This analysis suggests that improving vitamin D status is a key prevention tool.”
PLOS ONE 2016 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152441 Published: April 6, 2016