men aged 38 to 65 years who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study. Between the two studies, they identified 365 cases of pancreatic cancer. The surveys are considered valuable for their prospective design, following health trends instead of looking at purely historical information, high follow-up rates and the ability to enable researchers like Skinner to incorporate data from two independent studies.
Pancreatic cancer is a rapidly fatal disease and the fourth-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that 32,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. About the same number of people will die this year from the disease. It has no known cure, and surgical treatments are not often effective. Except for cigarette smoking, no environmental factors or dietary practices have been linked to the disease.
In addition to Vitamin D, the researchers also measured the association between pancreatic cancer and the intakes of calcium and retinol (Vitamin A). Calcium and retinol intakes showed no association with pancreatic cancer risk, although retinol is an antagonist of Vitamin D’s ability to influence mineral balances and bone integrity.
For that reason, further research is necessary to determine if Vitamin D ingestion from dietary sources, like eggs, liver and fatty fish or fortified dairy products, or through sun exposure might be preferable to multi-vitamin supplements, which contain retinol.
The potential benefits of vitamin D for pancreatic cancer were only recently established by other laboratory studies. Normal and cancerous pancreas tissue contain high levels of the enzyme that converts circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D into 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the vitamin’s active form. Other studies have shown an anti-cell proliferation effect of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, potentially inhibiting tumor cells.
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