Vitamin D is a ‘Game Changer’ for Patients With Digestive Tract Cancer


Vitamin D supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of relapse or death in patients with digestive tract cancer.

Vitamin D concept | Image credit: © Pixelbliss - ©

Vitamin D improved outcomes for patients with digestive tract cancer, recent research showed.

Vitamin D supplements have been demonstrated to have a positive effect on some patients with digestive tract cancer, as it reduces the risk of relapse or death, according to recent research.

A study from JAMA Network Open found that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D supplements every day targets mutated p53 proteins, which accumulate in cancer cells, reducing risk of disease relapse or death by nearly a third among some patient populations.

The respective study had a total of 392 patients with digestive tract cancer, who had levels of anti-p53 antibody (a generation of antibodies from mutant p53 proteins) measured. The specific cancer types included 183 patients with colorectal cancer, 170 patients with gastric cancer, 37 patients with esophageal cancer and two patients with small bowel cancer. All patients were followed up for a median time of 3.5 years.

Patients within the study were randomly assigned among two groups, vitamin D (241 patients) and placebo (151 patients).

Within both vitamin D and placebo groups, there was a subgroup of 80 patients called p53-immunoreactive, which some patients were categorized into based on the results of their serum (clear liquid within blood) and the p53 protein in cancer cells.

The five-year relapse-free survival (RFS, when patients survive after treatment without any signs or symptoms of cancer) rate was 80.9% (13 patients) among p53-immunoreactive subgroup participants in the vitamin D group, compared to 30.6% (one patient) in the placebo group.

Vitamin D “had no effect” on five-year relapse-free survival in the non-p53 immunoreactive subgroup, with RFS rates among those patients being 22.2% (35 patients) in the vitamin D group and 21.1% (24 patients) in the placebo group.

Study authors found that relapse or death occurred in nine of the 54 patients in the vitamin D group, and relapse or death occurred in 14 of the 26 patients from the placebo group.

The five-year relapse-free survival (length of time after primary cancer treatment when a patient survives without signs of cancer) rate was significantly higher in the vitamin D group, compared with the placebo group, with researchers finding that daily supplementation with 2,000 IU of vitamin D led to a 27% lower risk of relapse or death when compared with placebo among patients in the p53-immunoreactive subgroup.

In an invited commentary also from JAMA Network Open, Dr. Michael Holick, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center, described how the recent study of vitamin D for patients with digestive tract cancer made a difference in both the vitamin D and cancer spaces.

READ MORE:Vitamin D May Impact Colorectal Cancer Outcomes

“The observation … is a game changer for vitamin D and cancer. It provides an additional variable in our understanding of whether improving vitamin D status has any benefit for reducing risk of developing cancer as well as improving relapse-free and mortality outcomes,” Holick wrote. “For more than 100 years, sunlight and vitamin D deficiency has been associated with the risk for many deadly cancers, including colorectal, prostate, and breast.

“However, there has been great skepticism as to whether this nutrient/hormone provides any benefit for reducing cancer risk and the morbidity and mortality associated with cancer.”

Holick emphasized that although the respective study provided new and improved information about the positive effects vitamin D can have on patients with cancer, more studies regarding this topic are still necessary.

“It would be prudent, based on all available evidence, that patients with cancer consider improving their vitamin D status with 2000 IU daily (supplements) to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with their cancer,” wrote Holick, “except for those patients who have a hypersensitivity to vitamin D, including patients with granulomatous disorder (when white blood cells are unable to kill certain types of bacteria and fungi) and some lymphomas.”

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