Does cancer cause lower Vitamin D levels?
Vitamin D deficiency is common in cancer patients (Kennel & Drake, 2013). This observation has been the subject of much scientific investigation. It is not entirely clear at present if cancer itself causes the body to reduce Vitamin D levels, or if this is indirectly associated with effects of cancer on the body (Jacobs, Kohler, Kunihiro, & Jurutka, 2016)). As Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight and dietary sources, these factors may be negatively influenced in those afflicted by cancer (e.g., skin cancer patients will be advised to actively avoid significant sun-light exposure (GenoMEL, 2015)). Another factor impacting Vitamin D levels in an individual with cancer are the types and amounts of anti-cancer medicines they are receiving, which may in turn effect how the absorbs, use or stores Vitamin D. Irrespective of the mechanism, it is important for cancer patients to be aware of this tendency towards reduced Vitamin D levels.
Why is Vitamin D important for people with cancer?
Several studies have highlighted a connection between low Vitamin D levels with cancer risk and progression (National Cancer Institute, 2013). Laboratory tests have also demonstrated a link between Vitamin D concentration and so called ‘anti-tumorigenic’ effects – hypothesised due to Vitamin D’s role in cancers gene regulation, as well as preventing the tumour from acquiring a blood supply (angiogenesis) (Holick, 2004) and increasing the rate of cell death (apoptosis). Vitamin D’s role in the possible fight against cancer has also been the target of new medical trials (Thorne & Campbell, 2008).
What typical symptoms may be expected if Vitamin D levels are low?
As well as negative effects on cancer progression, low Vitamin D levels may result in different ailments including general fatigue, bone pain and adverse changes in mental state (thought and mood alteration). As such, these symptoms should be monitored, particularly in patients diagnosed with cancer. A simple blood test will help healthcare professionals determine if Vitamin D levels are related in any way. Where Vitamin D levels are low, a doctor can prescribe dietary supplements to bring levels back into a healthy range.
For additional information on what Vitamin D is and where it can be obtained from please refer to the preceding post: “Vitamin D basics”.
GenoMEL. (2015). GenoMEL: Patient Information. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from http://genomel.org/info-for-patients/%EF%BF%BCsun-protection-and-vitamin-d-after-a-diagnosis/
Holick, M. F. (2004). Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(3), 362–71. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14985208
Jacobs, E. T., Kohler, L. N., Kunihiro, A. G., & Jurutka, P. W. (2016). Vitamin D and Colorectal, Breast, and Prostate Cancers: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence. Journal of Cancer, 7(3), 232–240. http://doi.org/10.7150/jca.13403
Kennel, K. A., & Drake, M. T. (2013). Vitamin D in the cancer patient. Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care, 7(3), 272–277. JOUR. http://doi.org/10.1097/SPC.0b013e3283640f74
National Cancer Institute. (2013). Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention. Retrieved July 7, 2017, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet
Thorne, J., & Campbell, M. J. (2008). The vitamin D receptor in cancer. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(2), 115–27. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665108006964
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