Scientists who studied almost 1,600 patients after surgery for bowel
cancer found those with the highest levels of vitamin D have half
the risk of dying of the disease compared with those with the lowest
The study is the first to correlate the long-term survival prospects
of bowel cancer patients after diagnosis with total blood levels of
Vitamin D, sometimes known as the "sunshine vitamin", is made in the
body when the skin is exposed to sunlight and is found in foods such
as fish liver oil, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and
It is known to boost the uptake of calcium and bone formation. Some
observational studies have also suggested a link between low levels
of vitamin D and greater risks of many acute and chronic diseases.
Malcolm Dunlop of the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit
at the University of Edinburgh who led this study, said it suggested
vitamin D supplements may be worth exploring for bowel cancer
"Our findings are promising but it is important to note that this is
an observational study (and) we need carefully designed randomized
clinical trials before we can confirm whether taking vitamin D
supplements offers any survival benefit," he said.
Bowel cancer, also known as colon or colorectal cancer, is the
second most common cancer in Europe with around 447,000 new cases
diagnosed in 2012, said the charity Cancer Research UK which funded
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Dunlop's team tested blood samples from almost 1,600 patients after
surgery for bowel cancer. They found the greatest benefit of vitamin
D in patients with stage 2 cancers, when the tumor may be quite
large but the disease has not yet spread.
Three quarters of the patients with the highest vitamin D levels
were still alive after five years, compared with fewer than two
thirds of those with the lowest levels, they found.
The team, whose work was published in the Journal of Clinical
Oncology, said they now plan to set up a clinical trial to test
whether taking vitamin D tablets in combination with chemotherapy
can improve bowel cancer survival rates.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones)
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