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Survivors on Science: Vitamin D Does Breast Cancer Good

Hey Survivors! Let’s go retro for a moment.

We all remember those widely popular commercials in the 80s and 90s… MILK: It does a body good. And though many researchers have debunked this theory pointing to evidence that suggests milk isn’t as good for our bones as we thought, it’s hard to shake our milk mustache nostalgia and some of us old school folk still turn to the white stuff as a source of Vitamin D. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just shouldn’t be the only thing. So we’re putting the carton aside for a second and zeroing in on Vitamin D itself as a recent study proposes that high Vitamin D intake can lengthen survival rates in breast cancer patients – and we’re all ears on this!

Last month researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute based in Buffalo, NY and Kaiser Permanente based in Oakland, CA, joined together for a new study that shows that women with higher levels of vitamin D when diagnosed with breast cancer experienced longer cancer-free survival and were about 30% less likely to die from the disease.

Founded in 1898, the mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute is to understand, prevent and cure cancer and Kaiser Permanente has more than 60 years’ experience providing quality health care.

In a combined effort, Roswell Park and Kaiser Permanente Northern California are co-principal investigators of the Pathways Study, a National Cancer Institute funded prospective study of women with breast cancer.

Song Yao, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park said the study has pointed strongly to a positive connection between Vitamin D levels and the spread of breast cancer.

“This large prospective observational study provides compelling evidence that higher levels of vitamin D at the time of breast cancer diagnosis can reduce the risk of breast cancer progression and death,” he said. “The reduced risk was more pronounced in younger women, specifically those diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. Our study suggests that vitamin D may extend survival in women diagnosed with breast cancer.”

To conduct the study, researchers surveyed the vitamin D status of 1,666 women diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of a seven year period from 2006 to 2013, tracking the frequency of breast cancer recurrence, second primary cancer and death. In an eye-opening find, they discovered that the women with the highest levels of vitamin D had an increased 30% overall survival rate. Further, these women also had 48% better recurrence-free survival and 63% better breast cancer-specific survival. Researchers also noted that these findings were adjusted for contributing factors which include age, obesity, and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomic status, exercise, smoking, the season of blood collection and tumor characteristics.

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator of the Pathways Study and Senior Vice President of Population Sciences at Roswell Park added that the Pathway Study was already a great resource but now has strengthened its relevance to breast cancer specifically.

“The Pathway Study is already an invaluable resource and one that now provides compelling evidence of the association between vitamin D and breast cancer outcomes,” she said. “Researchers at Roswell Park and Kaiser Permanente are working in concert to identify factors that impact morbidity and mortality associated with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, with an ultimate goal to improve these outcomes.”

So what does this mean for us? In addition to milk or as an alternative, we can we turn to other sources for our Vitamin D fix including foods like salmon, tuna, eggs, and mushrooms and even non-food sources like sunlight. However, as they say - all things in moderation. Indulging too far into any one source is never suggested and we always emphasize the importance of speaking to your doctor before embarking on any new diet. That said, you may also want to ask your doctor about taking a daily Vitamin D supplement in pill form, if Vitamin D rich foods contain other health risks for you due to higher fat content or the like. Every person has different restrictions and so should go into any new approach with caution and the OK from a health care professional.

As we venture into this very festive holiday season we’re glad you stopped by and look forward to next time when we introduce you to our December calendar survivor of the month and wrap up 2016.

See you all next time!

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