Bowel cancer survival boosted by vitamin D

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According to research which was published on Wednesday, patients suffering from bowel cancer, who have high levels of vitamin D in their blood, have a higher survival rate from the disease.

Scientists studied around 1600 patients after they had had surgery for bowel cancer. It was found that those with the highest vitamin D levels were at half the risk of dying due to the disease, than those with the lowest levels.

This study is the first to link the long-term survival prospects of bowel cancer patients with vitamin D blood levels.

Vitamin D, which is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is produced in the body when the skin gains exposure to sunlight. It is also present in foods, such as eggs, fish liver oil and fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring and salmon.

The vitamin is also known to increase the retention of calcium and aids in bone formation. Some studies have also suggested that there is a link between low vitamin D level and higher risks of many chronic and acute illnesses.

The leader of the study, Malcolm Dunlop who is based at the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said that the study suggested that vitamin D supplements for bowel cancer patients may be worth consideration.

He said that their findings offer promise, but it has to be noted that this was an observational study and it would be necessary to undertake carefully designed randomised clinical trials before confirming if taking vitamin D supplements will actually offer any benefits.

Bowel cancer, which is also known as colorectal or colon cancer, is the second most common cancer within Europe. The charity, Cancer Research UK funded this study and stated that during 2012, 447000 new cases of the illness were diagnosed.

The research team undertook blood sample testing from around 1600 patients after bowel cancer surgery. They discovered that the most benefit of high levels of vitamin D were in patients with stage 2 cancers. This is when the tumour may be quite sizeable, but the disease has not spread yet.

The team found that 75% of the patients who had shown the highest levels of vitamin D were still living after five years, whereas less than 67% of those with the lowest levels survived.

The research team are planning to set up clinical trials to test whether taking vitamin D supplements combined with chemotherapy can improve the survival rates of bowel cancer.

Image Credit: Olga Ferrer Saladié

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