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Vitamin D may help treat inflammatory breast cancer

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Sept 08, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- A new study most recently published in Clinical and Experimental Metastasis suggests that taking a high dose of vitamin D may help prevent or treat inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).

The study led by Rebecca L. Hillyer of The University of Delaware and colleagues showed inflammatory breast cancer cells exposed to 100 nm calcitriol for 24 hours had a reduced capability to migrate and invade and as a result, had a decreased tumor size.

"Vitamin D is a known regulator of breast cancer cell proliferation, apoptosis, migration, invasion and differentiation in vitro. Recent studies have suggested a preventative role for vitamin D in breast cancer development and suggested a possible therapeutic application of vitamin D for patients with various forms of breast cancer," the authors write in their report.

Inflammatory breast cancer is highly aggressive and phenotypically unique and has a very poor prognosis.  The cancer cells can easily invade the dermal lymphatics of the breast.

In  the study, the researchers tested the effect of calcitriol, an active form of vitamin D that can be produced in the body only when the serum concentration of this vitamin reaches  a definite level, on the aggressive phenotype of inflammatory breast cancer.

After 24-hour exposure to calcitriol at the concentration of 100 nm, the migration of the breast cancer cells was decreased by 67.8 percent, the invasion decreased by 43.9 percent and tumor size decreased by 69.4 percent, compared to cells that were not exposed to the vitamin D.
Calcitriol treatment of the cancer cells led to significantly fewer experimental  inflammatory breast cancer metastases as compared to the control. 

The researchers concluded "Our study demonstrates that calcitriol treatment of SUM149 affected several of the processes important for IBC metastasis but had little effect on MDA-MB-231 cells. Therefore, calcitriol treatment may have the potential to decrease the rate and incidence of metastasis in IBC patients."

SUM149 is a human inflammatory breast cancer cell line and MDA-MB-231 is another breast cancer cell line.

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with 17 types of cancers including breast cancer.  Some researchers suggest that maintaining a sufficient serum level of vitamin D may prevent up to 70 percent of breast cancer cases.

It should be noted that vitamin D, which per itself is not active against cancer cells, needs to be taken in a large dose to have an anticancer effect.  Dr.  John Cannell, a vitamin D researcher suggests that only when vitamin D reaches certain serum level, it can be transformed into the bioactive form of vitamin D called calcitrol in the kidney.

High doses of calcitriol is very effective in fighting cancer.  But it can cause high calcium in the blood.  Numerous studies have been carried out to create vitamin D analogs which minimize the side effect while maintaining its efficacy of cancer treatment.

However, there is no reporting that calcitriol is used clinically to treat breast cancer.  Regardless, vitamin D supplements may be taken to prevent breast cancer as many studies suggest.

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