From Friday’s Globe and MailPublished on Thursday, Nov. 05, 2009 6:12PM EST
Responding to research indicating that vitamin D may slow the progression of breast, colon and other common cancers, some doctors have begun adding the supplement to their tool kit of cancer therapies alongside more conventional treatments such as radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.
While not all physicians are convinced the evidence is strong enough to warrant taking an extra dollop of the sunshine vitamin, those recommending the course say popping the pills is a simple health strategy that has few, if any, risks and has the added benefit of also improving bone health in those with cancer.
“There is emerging data on breast cancer recurrence rates and vitamin D levels that are quite compelling,” says Tracey O’Connor, an oncologist at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo who treats breast cancer and is having her patients take the vitamin.
Giving vitamin D as part of a treatment program for cancer is still relatively new in the medical community, and Roswell Park is one of the first major cancer institutions in North America to have a number of doctors investigating whether wider use of the nutrient may make a difference in the outcome of the disease.
Speaking at a conference this week in Toronto, Dr. O’Connor outlined a protocol she is using for vitamin D in breast-cancer treatment. It involves giving high doses of the supplement to the most deficient patients immediately after they are diagnosed to quickly raise blood levels of the nutrient.
Dr. O’Connor says that having a low level of vitamin D “is quite common” among women with breast cancer, and most patients, typically about 80 per cent, are either deficient or have insufficient amounts.
Current Health Canada dietary recommendations for vitamin D range from 200 to 600 international units a day, depending on age, and were designed to promote bone health and not the far larger amounts being explored for therapeutic possibilities in cancer treatments.
Dr. O’Connor says some breast-cancer patients have such low stores of the nutrient that they need to embark on a crash course of taking up to 50,000 IU a week for several months to bring up their levels. Other patients whose starting levels aren’t so poor take a few thousand IU a day. She also monitors blood levels to make sure people don’t get too much...read more…