Malignancy Risk & Vitamin D Deficiency: An Unclear Relationship

cancer malignancy
cancer malignancy
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are not enough available data to establish whether taking vitamin D can prevent cancer.

Several recent studies attempted to determine the role of vitamin D supplementation in oncogenesis and cancer treatment. The relationship, however, remains unclear.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed, for example, that a deficiency of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH D) increased the odds of adverse prostate cancer pathology among men with localized prostate cancer undergoing radical prostatectomy.1 Serum 25-OH D levels less than 30 ng/mL were associated with more than twice the risk of adverse pathology.

A systematic review of 7 studies of vitamin D and bladder cancer showed that vitamin D deficiency increased the risk of developing the disease (this was found in 5 of the 7 studies).2 Higher levels of vitamin D correlated with better survival and outcomes.

A pooled analysis published in PLoS One showed that 25 OH D concentrations of 40 ng/mL or greater were associated with a substantial risk reduction of all invasive cancers.3 The analysis used data from 2 cohorts including more than 2300 people with multiple cancer types. Women with concentrations of 40 ng/mL or greater had a 67% lower risk for cancer than women with concentrations less than 20 ng/mL.

Other studies have evaluated the role of vitamin D after a cancer diagnosis. JAMA Oncology recently published the results of a cohort study of 1666 women with breast cancer measuring the level of vitamin D in the blood at the time of breast cancer diagnosis.4 

Higher serum 25-OH D levels were independently associated with better outcomes for patients, including longer overall survival. Compared with the lowest tertile of vitamin D levels, those women with the highest levels had a superior overall survival; this advantage was even greater among premenopausal women.

A study published in JAMA Oncology showed, interestingly, that the benefits of vitamin D3 supplementation for the prevention of advanced colorectal adenomas may vary according to vitamin D receptor genotype.5 The study of about 1700 people showed that the effect of vitamin D3 supplementation on advanced adenomas varied according to genotype at 2 vitamin D receptor SNPs: supplementation reduced risk among patients with rs7968585 with the AA genotype, though it increased risk among patients with 1 or 2 G alleles.

The researchers said that these results are a “first step” toward identifying which individuals may benefit or be harmed by vitamin D interventions, reflecting the variety of results from studies of supplementation in recent years.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are not enough available data to establish whether taking vitamin D can prevent cancer.6 New randomized trials will need to be conducted to more fully understand the effect of vitamin D on cancer and its outcomes.

Among those studies in progress are the Vitamin D/Calcium Polyp Prevention Study ( Identifier: NCT00153816), which is examining whether vitamin D supplementation given alone or with calcium prevents the development of colorectal adenomas in patients with previous adenoma removal, and the VITAL trial ( Identifier: NCT01169259), which is evaluating whether vitamin D supplements can prevent a variety of cancers in older men and women. 


  1. Nyame YA, Murphy AB, Bowen DK, et al. Associations between serum vitamin D and adverse pathology in men undergoing radical prostatectomy. J Clin Oncol. 2016;34(12):1345-9.
  2. Low vitamin D levels linked to increased risk of bladder cancer. University of Warwick website. Published November 8, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2016.
  3. McDonnell SL, Baggerly C, French CB, et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations >=40 ng/mL associated with a >65% lower cancer risk: pooled analysis of randomized trial and prospective cohort study. PLoS One. 2016;11(4):e0152441.
  4. Yao S, Kwan ML, Ergas IJ, et al. Association of serum level of vitamin D at diagnosis with breast cancer survival: a case-cohort analysis in the pathways study. JAMA Oncol. 2016 Nov 10. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.4188 [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Barry EL, Peacock JL, Rees JR, et al. Vitamin D receptor genotype, vitamin D3 supplementation, and risk of colorectal adenomas: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Oncol. 2016 Dec 15. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.5917 [Epub ahead of print]
  6. Chung M, Lee J, Terasawa T, Lau J, Trikalinos TA. Vitamin D with or without calcium supplementation for prevention of cancer and fractures: an updated meta-analysis for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(12):827-38.

This article originally appeared on Cancer Therapy Advisor