Vitamin D has been making headlines recently. Not only for its role in promoting healthy bones, but for its link to boosting immune health, managing type 1 diabetes and blood pressure, and even contributing to the treatment of certain cancers. Now, preliminary research suggests that vitamin D may have a role in the treatment of colorectal cancer that has spread throughout the body.
Atlantic Health System is part of a nationwide phase 3 study on vitamin D’s impact in treating patients with stage 4 colorectal cancer. It will involve more than 1,000 patients enrolled through the spring of 2022. Participants receive the chemotherapy combination FOLFOX, a standard treatment, with either a standard dose of vitamin D or a high dose of the vitamin. A small clinical trial demonstrated benefits for patients, leading to the phase 3 research. The study also addresses whether there is potential for harm.
The American Cancer Society estimates 149,500 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2021. In New Jersey alone, an estimated 4,250 adults will develop the disease.
Colonoscopy screenings have dipped during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a significant concern. When caught early, colon cancer has a 91% five-year survival rate. If it spreads to distant parts of the body, the survival rate drops to 14%, according to the American Cancer Society.
Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer (as well as other cancers). Based on the data, I suggest people have their vitamin D level tested, in consultation with their doctor. If it is below normal, they can take supplements to get the level into the normal range. There is no evidence that doing so would cause harm when appropriately monitored.
Stay healthy, get annual checkups, and listen to your body. If you feel something is not right, get it checked out.
Sophie Morse, MD, MSc, is the principal investigator for Atlantic Health System’s role in a nationwide phase 3 study on vitamin D’s impact in treating patients with stage 4 colorectal cancer. A gastrointestinal oncologist at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center, Dr. Morse is board-certified in hematology, medical oncology and internal medicine.