Northwestern Medicine research showed deficient vitamin D blood levels in men can predict aggressive prostate cancer identified at the time of surgery.
The finding is important because it can offer guidance to men and their doctors who may be considering active surveillance, in which they monitor the cancer rather than remove the prostate.
“Vitamin D deficiency may predict aggressive prostate cancer as a biomarker,” said lead investigator Adam Murphy, M.D., an assistant professor of urology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine urologist. “Men with dark skin, low vitamin D intake or low sun exposure should be tested for vitamin D deficiency when they are diagnosed with an elevated PSA or prostate cancer. Then a deficiency should be corrected with supplements.”
Previous studies showing an association between vitamin D levels and aggressive prostate cancer were based on blood drawn well before treatment. The Northwestern study provides a more direct correlation because it measured D levels within a couple of months before the tumor was visually identified as aggressive during surgery to remove the prostate (radical prostatectomy).
The relationship between vitamin D and prostate cancer may explain some disparities seen in prostate cancer, especially among African American men. Prior research by Murphy and colleagues showed African American men who live in low sunlight locations are up to 1 1/2 times more likely to have vitamin D deficiency than Caucasian men.
But because vitamin D is a biomarker for bone health and aggressiveness of other diseases, all men should check their levels, Murphy said.
“All men should be replenishing their vitamin D to normal levels,” Murphy said. “It’s smart preventive health care.”
Aggressive prostate cancer is defined by whether the cancer has migrated outside of the prostate and by a high Gleason score. A low Gleason score means the cancer tissue is similar to normal prostate tissue and less likely to spread; a high one means the cancer tissue is very different from normal and more likely to spread.
(A Wellness Update is a magazine devoted to up-to-the minute information on health issues from physicians, major hospitals and clinics, universities and health care agencies across the U.S. Online at www.awellnessupdate.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.