Vitamin D Improves Survival in Lymphoma Patients


Scientists have found a strong association between the level of vitamin D in patients being treated for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and cancer progression and overall survival. Although the findings concerning vitamin D are preliminary, the study’s authors from Mayo Clinic in Rochester have called them “very provocative.”

Of the more than 35 different types of lymphoma, 30 are classified as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Among those, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common type. Because it is an aggressive form of cancer, immediate treatment, typically chemotherapy which may or may not be accompanied by radiation and/or monoclonal antibody treatment, is necessary. The disease does respond well to treatment, and many patients can be cured.

The results of the new study, which are being presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, highlight the issue “of whether vitamin D supplementation might aid in treatment for this malignancy,” according to lead investigator and endocrinologist Matthew Drake, MD, PhD. In previous studies, vitamin D has been found to be helpful in maintaining strong bones and protecting against heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, and various autoimmune diseases. It has even been named as possibly helping protect against H1N1.


The study was conducted by researchers from Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa and enrolled 374 patients who had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. The investigators found that half of the patients were vitamin D deficient based on the commonly used standard of total serum 25(OH)D less than 25 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Patients who were vitamin D deficient had a 1.5-fold greater risk of their disease progressing and a twofold greater risk of dying when compared with patients who had optimal vitamin D levels.

Currently, the US government’s recommendation for vitamin D intake is 200 to 400 IU daily. Yet according to the Vitamin D council, most individuals are deficient and need to take 5,000 IU daily until they reach an optimal blood level of between 50 and 80 ng/mL. Because the skin produces approximately 10,000 IU vitamin D after just 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to summer sun, individuals who make an effort to get even half that amount of sunlight exposure can do much to improve their vitamin D status.

Dr. Drake noted that achieving an adequate vitamin D status can be done inexpensively through use of supplements or 15 minutes of sun exposure three times a week in the summer. He noted that many doctors recommend patients take 800 to 1,200 IU daily.

The findings of this study indicate that vitamin D supplements may help patients who have already been diagnosed with some types of cancer, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Even though scientists have not identified the exact roles vitamin D plays in disease progression, they do know that the vitamin is involved in processes that are key in limiting cancer.

Mayo Clinic Rochester
Vitamin D Council