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Women with Breast Cancer Need Vitamin D


Vitamin D is a critical nutrient for women who have breast cancer, yet the majority of them have low levels of the vitamin. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center presented their findings about vitamin D on October 8 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.

Treatment for women who have breast cancer typically involves hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy, both of which can accelerate bone loss and thus greatly increase women’s risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Vitamin D, along with calcium, is one of the most critical nutrients for the development and maintenance of bone health. Therefore attention to vitamin D levels in women with breast cancer needs to be addressed.

The researchers for the current study evaluated 166 women who were undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Nearly 70 percent of the patients had low levels of vitamin D in their blood, averaging 27 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter). The deficiency was especially pronounced in women who had late stage breast cancer or who were non-Caucasians. The Institute of Medicine suggests 32 ng/mL as an adequate level of vitamin D in the blood. Not everyone agrees, however.

According to the Vitamin D Council, the desirable level of vitamin D in the blood is 50 ng/mL up to 80 ng/mL. The skin produces approximately 10,000 IU (International Units) vitamin D when it is exposed to 20 to 30 minutes of summer sun. This is about 50 percent of the 5,000 IU recommended by the Vitamin D Council to achieve a desirable level of 50 ng/mL.

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Along with an increased risk of bone loss, osteoporosis, and fractures, signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:

* Mood swings
* Depression
* Increased risk of heart disease
* Fatigue
* Muscle pain
* Sleep disturbances

Many of these symptoms are experienced by women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Everyone, not just women who have breast cancer, should know their vitamin D levels, as a deficiency can have a dramatic impact on their health. The Vitamin D Council notes that the only blood test that can diagnosed vitamin D deficiency is a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. Patients should then work with their healthcare providers to take supplements so their blood levels are between 50 and 80 ng/mL year-round, according to the Council. Home tests for vitamin D deficiency are also available.

University of Rochester Medical Center news release, October 9, 2009
Vitamin D Council