Extra vitamin D can slow the growth of colon cancer, a new study suggests.
On average, cancer stopped for 13 months for patients with the highest dose of the vitamin supplement (4,000 IU), and for 11 months for patients with a self-care dose.
The rates of colorectal cancer have increased enormously in recent years, especially among young people who often get an incorrect diagnosis until their disease is already at a late stage.
But the new study, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, suggests that high doses of vitamin D can keep the devastating disease at bay – even in the late stages.
Colon cancer was 36 percent less likely to spread and be fatal for patients taking high doses of vitamin D (4,000 IU or more per day, shown in yellow), a new study found
Study co-author and research director for the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center of Dana-Farber, Dr. Kimmie Ng, called the findings “very important.”
“It identifies a cost-effective, safe, and easily accessible agent as a potential new treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer.”
This is especially important because studies suggest that as many as 71 percent of those aged 50 and older diagnosed with colorectal cancer are already in the third or fourth phase of the disease when it has spread to nearby tissues or has spread to further organs .
In these stages, the cancer becomes much more deadly.
While colorectal cancer has isolated its original organs, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. As soon as it spreads to surrounding areas, such as the lymph nodes, that percentage drops to 71 percent.
But once it has spread, the survival rate drops from five years to 14 percent.
Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are available to treat colorectal cancer, but only a few forms.
For the rest, chemotherapy is the standard treatment.
But the new study, published in JAMA, suggests that adding vitamin D to a treatment regimen could temporarily freeze disease progression and possibly extend life expectancy.
It is not clear why, but those with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of colorectal cancer in the beginning.
And the vitamin seems to activate the suicide switch in cells that can kill them when they become cancer, according to previous laboratory studies.
So the researchers from the Dana Farber Institute admitted a small number of patients with metastatic colon cancer who had not yet received treatment.
All patients started with chemo and a targeted therapy called bevacizumab (sold as Avastin). Half of the patients received a regimen of one 400 IU vitamin D capsule per day.
The other half took four thousand IU capsules per day for two weeks and then switched to one four thousand capsules per day for the remainder of the study (patients remained on average for only 23 months in the regimen).
Both groups saw significant delays in the progress of the disease.
Although it is difficult to say whether and how quickly the cancer would continue to spread on chemotherapy and targeted therapy alone, the cancer did not know on average 13 months for the high-dose group or 11 months for the low-dose group.
During the nearly two years of the study, cancer was 36 percent less likely to spread or be fatal in patients receiving high doses of vitamin D than in those taking the lower dose.
Vitamin D looks promising, but as far as the authors know, this is the first time that the benefits for colorectal cancer have been studied – and they are still early days.
“The results of our study suggest an improved outcome for patients receiving vitamin D supplementation, and we look forward to a larger study to confirm these exciting and provocative findings,” said senior research author Dr. Charles Fuchs, a former oncologist at Dana -Farber. who is now at Yale University.
Perhaps best of all, vitamin D is a cheap supplementary treatment. A bottle of 300 1,000 IU capsules costs around $ 15.
“Therefore, this can potentially have a large and wide scope worldwide, regardless of the socio-economic status of a patient or the resources of a country,” said Dr. Ng.