Low Levels of Vitamin D Intake Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

There's not a lot of good news in the fight against pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The disease, often aggressive and fatal, is difficult to treat with standard cancer treatments.

Scientists from Northwestern and Harvard University, however, have found a possible important link between vitamin D and pancreatic cancer.

In two studies, researchers tracked more than 120,000 men and women from 1986 to 2000.

They compared how much vitamin D the men and women ate to the number of cases of pancreatic cancer.

There were 365 cases of pancreatic cancer over the 16-year span. Researchers found that patients who had consumed high levels of vitamin D were 41 percent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer when compared with people with low vitamin D diets.

From these findings, the researchers conclude that vitamin D may have some role in the prevention of pancreatic cancer, possibly as a type of tumor-fighting vitamin that keeps cancers from growing and multiplying.

Thankfully, vitamin D is not hard to find.

It is found in many foods, and skin naturally makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. It also may fight off more cancers than just this one.

"We have enough data to conclude that vitamin D is linked to many types of cancer," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "I was originally skeptical, but the data from multiple studies changed my view."

In addition to vitamin D's link to pancreatic cancer, connections between vitamin D and breast, prostate and colon cancer have also been suggested.

Lichtenfeld said there should be more study of the link between the vitamin and cancer, but the research is at an early stage.

"There is not enough data to make recommendations at this point," he said.