Vitamin D increases survival rates among lymphoma patients

Results of a new study show that vitamin D levels are important for survival among patients being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The authors say the findings are the "strongest to date" showing that vitamin D levels are directly related to cancer outcomes, and is the first to study disease progression and survival of lymphoma patients with low vitamin D levels.

Matthew Drake, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester writes, "While these findings are very provocative, they are preliminary and need to be validated in other studies. However, they raise the issue of whether vitamin D supplementation might aid in treatment for this malignancy, and thus should stimulate much more research." The study showed that lymphoma patients deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to die, and had 1.5 times increased risk of lymphoma progression.

The conclusions were based on a study of 374 patients newly diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma - half were found to be vitamin D deficient. Mortality and disease progression outcomes found among lymphoma patients with vitamin D deficiency are not entirely clear.

Dr. Drake says "The exact roles that vitamin D might play in the initiation or progression of cancer is unknown, but we do know that the vitamin plays a role in regulation of cell growth and death, among other processes important in limiting cancer."

Vitamin D has been increasingly found to be important for overall health. Lack of sunshine, dark skin, poor intake of foods fortified with vitamin D all contribute to growing concerns about public health from vitamin D deficiency.

It is fairly easy to maintain vitamin D levels through inexpensive daily supplements or 15 minutes in the sun three times a week in the summer, so that levels can be stored inside body fat," explains Dr. Drake. Many physicians recommend 800-1,200 International Units (IU) daily."

Cancer research has focused on vitamin D and its role in cancer prevention and outcomes. Vitamin D is a hormone that regulates the way genes behave. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with gene regulation in prostate, colon and breast cancers.

The study is the first to look at the link between low levels of vitamin D and survival among lymphoma patients. The researchers looked at epidemiological data showing that patients with lymphoma in Northern latitudes where sunlight exposure, necessary for vitamin D synthesis is minimal, had higher death rates. Vitamin D deficiency has recently been recognized as widespread. The new study shows that vitamin D levels may be important for survival among patients diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Mayo Clinic