Science Update

Low vitamin D may be linked to increased pancreatic cancer risk

Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most common cancer in the world and often has a poor prognosis even if diagnosed early. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly and unfortunately is rarely detected in its early stages which is why it is a leading cause of cancer death.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine recently reported that pancreatic cancer rates are highest in countries with the least amount of sunlight. Low sunlight levels were due to a combination of heavy cloud cover and high latitude. This report was published last month in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.  

People who live in bright sunny countries close the equator have only one-sixth the incidence rate of pancreatic cancer as those who are far from the equator. Thus the research suggests that a vitamin D deficiency may contribute to the risk of pancreatic cancer.

This same research team previously demonstrated that sufficient levels of a metabolite of vitamin D 25-OH was associated with a significantly lower risk of breast and colorectal cancer.

In this new study the researchers looked at data from over 100 countries taking into account international differences and possible confounders such as alcohol consumption obesity and smoking. "While these other factors also contribute to risk the strong inverse association with cloud-cover adjusted sunlight persisted even after they were accounted for" said study author Cedric F. Garland DrPH.

If an individual cannot make vitamin D throughout most of the year there is potential for an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. There are multiple factors that affect our ability to make vitamin D. While a good amount of the vitamin D in our bodies comes from exposure to the sun most of us need to obtain additional vitamin D from other sources. The majority of us have deficient levels of D and there are several reasons for this. Many people avoid the sun due to the dangers of overexposure so they’ll cover up with either clothing or sunblock. In addition so many of us find ourselves spending countless hours inside under fluorescent lights and away from natural light. Also both latitude and time of year will influence the amount of vitamin D that can be obtained from the sun and in some locations these limitations may be hindrances throughout most of the year.