Higher serum calcium levels in men may promote the development of fatal prostate cancer, according to a new study. Serum calcium levels are associated with higher levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH). Lead researcher Gary G. Schwartz, PhD, associate professor of cancer biology and epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, believes that high levels of PTH and serum calcium levels might stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells. According to Dr. Schwartz, "This may be a risk factor that — for the first time — we can do something about.”
The researchers looked at 2814 men who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-1 study. Serum calcium levels were measured 9.9 years before the development of prostate cancer, finding that the men had calcium levels in the "high end of the normal range." According to the report, the results showed an almost three-fold risk of prostate cancer.
The researchers concluded, “the highest tertile of serum calcium is comparable in magnitude with the risk associated with family history and could add significantly to our ability to identify men at increased risk for fatal prostate cancer.”
This is not the first study to link calcium levels in men to prostate cancer risk. Several studies have tried to decide if dietary intake of calcium perhaps lowers Vitamin D levels, but a definite link to dairy products and other foods rich in calcium has not definitely been found. Co-author of the current study, Halcyon Skinner, PhD, from the department of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, however cautions men not to be concerned about dietary calcium, as there is no relationship between serum levels of calcium in the blood and how much calcium is consumed in the diet.
The team plans to clarify the issue with an upcoming study involving 30 men with advanced prostate cancer, and elevated levels of PTH. The researchers will use paricalcitol, a synthetically produced form of Vitamin D used in patients with kidney failure that helps balance calcium levels in the body.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men.
If the researchers are correct, the risk of prostate cancer may become easily detectable with a simple blood test, making early intervention a reality.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers 2008 Sep;17(9):2302-5
Blood Test Accurately Predicts Risk of Prostate Cancer Recurrence