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Low vitamin D predicts aggressive prostate cancer

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.”

Dr. Adam Murphy,
assistant professor of urology at Feinberg

A new study provides a major link between low levels of vitamin D and aggressive prostate cancer. 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 Dr. Adam Murphy, 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.“

Murphy also is a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Previous studies showing an association between vitamin D levels and aggressive prostate cancer were based on blood drawn well before treatment. The new 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 1½ 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.”

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