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Vitamin D Levels Linked to Survivorship of Prostate Cancer—Genetic Variations May Play Crucial Role in Determining Outcomes

April 30, 2012 -- A study that looked at the association between blood levels of vitamin D and prostate cancer has found that men with the highest levels of the vitamin were 57% less likely to develop a lethal form of the disease.  However, vitamin D blood levels did not affect a man’s chance of developing the disease. Several of the researchers involved in the study, published in the April 12 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, are funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

The researchers also determined that genetic variations among seven vitamin D-related genes determined men’s ability to metabolize vitamin D in the body, effectively determining how long they were able to “hold on” to the vitamin. 

The study was part of an ongoing investigation at the Harvard School of Public Health—the Health Professional’s Follow Up Study. Almost 3,000 men participated, approximately half with prostate cancer.

While the study does not determine cause and effect, it opens the door to genetic assessments of men to determine their vitamin D risk profile so they can make appropriate lifestyle changes that may enhance survivorship of the disease, such as sunlight exposure and dietary changes to add more vitamin-D rich foods.

One of the study authors, Dr. Lorelei A. Mucci, a PCF Young Investigator, says that while this work needs to be validated with other studies it adds to a growing body of literature showing the importance of vitamin D and vitamin D-related pathways in prostate cancer outcomes. “It is very likely the vitamin D pathway is important in terms of prevention of lethal prostate cancer,” says Mucci.

She says an important next step will be to test this hypothesis in study populations that are prone to lower levels of vitamin D and who, when they develop the disease, are more likely to have a lethal form, such as African-Americans.

Be sure to discuss this issue with your doctor before making changes to your diet or taking supplements.

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