Having a lack of enough vitamin D can drastically effect one's ability to fight many cancers, including lymphoma. So, researchers inevitably wondered whether the addition of Vitamin D to preexisting therapies would prolong patients' lives. The Wilmot Cancer Institute received a $3 million grant for oncologists to research just that.
The study the oncologists have embarked on is one of the first national clinical trials to look into the potential of Vitamin D deficiency affecting lymphoma patients.
The investigation is led by Jonathan W. Friedberg, M.D., M.M. Sc. He is a director at The Wilmot Cancer Institute at University of Rochester Medical Center. However, the study is not confined to Rochester, it will also be present at Mayo Clinic, Weill Cornell Medicine, MD Anderson, Emory University, and Washington University leading to a wide range of areas with differing levels of sunshine, which may impact the study on Vitamin D.
Jonathan Friedberg's study regarding Vitamin D's impact on low-grade lymphomas has begun recently, starting on August 1st. Michael Brady, Ph.D. is a staff scientist at Wilmot and the clinical trial manager. Together, Friedberg and Brady will observe and analyze the day-to-day happenings of the clinical trial, both locally and at the off-site locations. Brady contributed greatly to the possibility of the study, working with URMC Clinical Materials Services Unit, the Clinical & Translational Science Institute, and URMC Labs, along with other providers as well.
Background on Follicular Lymphoma
Follicular lymphoma is among the most common forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and it is usually accepted as incurable. However, recently more modern and innovative treatments have made breakthroughs.
These medical advances were largely due to changing the approach of treatment of follicular lymphoma. Instead of a normal blood cancer, researchers and medical professionals began to approach it like a chronic disease, which heightened the median survival to about 20 years. Although this is by no means curing follicular lymphoma, it does make a significant impact into the lives and life expectancy of patients.
Who is eligible for the study?
Patients who suffer from low-grade lymphomas such as follicular lymphoma are eligible to participate in this study, which is set to be about five years long.
Genomics tests on tissue samples will be administered to certain preexisting patients in order to determine which future patients will be the most likely to see positive results from the Vitamin D therapy.
The way the study will be conducted is as follows. It is a randomized, blinded, phase 3 study. Around 200 patients will be enrolled, and the researchers involved will be comparing their results. Some patients will be receiving the usual treatment of rituximab by itself, and a placebo pill. Other patients will be receiving the same rituximab therapy along with 200 I.U. oral vitamin D. Each group of these patients will be taking these medicines daily for three years, giving the researchers ample time to analyze the progression and ultimately the results of each.
Why Vitamin D therapy could be beneficial to patients
If Vitamin D therapy can prove to be effective within certain groups of patients, they may be able to decrease their intake of harmful drugs and chemicals. This turn to natural treatment could decrease sometimes unbearable side effects. Especially in follicular lymphoma patients, these side effects are prevalent. Many patients die earlier than expected, and even if they do manage to live, they often have to receive intermittent treatment, sometimes for the entirety of their lives. On top of being a burden and a health hazard due to toxicity, these treatments can be extremely expensive, often costing a patient over $100,000 per annum.
Leader of the study Jonathan Friedberg explains, "if Vitamin D can boost the effectiveness of rituximab early in the disease process. It could result in an immediately available, inexpensive and well-tolerated new standard treatment approach.”
Vitamin D influence on life expectancy
On top of Friedberg's position at the Wilmot Cancer Center and on this study, he is one of the leading experts in lymphoma internationally. At the 14th International Conference of Malignant Lymphoma in Switzerland, Friedberg presented the latest and most innovative treatment information to his friends and colleagues. He discovered in one of his studies, previous to this one, that those who have low levels of Vitamin D at the time they are diagnosed are more likely to die in a short time frame than people who have average or good levels of Vitamin D at the time of diagnosis.
Many people receive good levels of Vitamin D from sun exposure, fatty fish, and certain foods that are strong in the vitamin like milk or orange juice. Due to the health advantages these levels offer people, even those without lymphoma, medical professionals have been dedicating many resources to analyze Vitamin D's impact on health in general. The leasing scientific advisory panel in the United States, The Institute of Medicine, announced their recommendation in 2010 that (except for those exempt) children and adults consume dietary supplements of Vitamin D daily, of about 600 international units, in order to reach optimal levels.
However, it is not only blood cancer that Vitamin D can have a significant impact on. University of Rochester Medical Center, along with a few other research centers, has previously conducted studies in which low levels of Vitamin D correlated with a more dire prognosis of breast and colon cancer.
Another interesting statistic regarding the connection between Vitamin D and cancer analyzes skin tone. People of color produce smaller amounts of Vitamin D because of the way in which their skin reacts to sun exposure, resulting in disparities in the ways they react to cancer treatments. Despite this, it has not been confirmed exactly how Vitamin D changes or alters cancer risk.
Vitamin D uses for prevention
With such promising information abounding about Vitamin D's ability to help those with a cancer diagnosis, many have wondered how Vitamin D works in terms of prevention. Certain research has showed that 20 minutes spent in the sun every day can decrease one's risk of cancer by up to 50 percent. Of course, one may think of sun exposure as synonymous with melanoma; however, when short terms like 20 minutes are spent in the sun with proper protection, one can get the benefit of Vitamin D from the sun without too much risk to their skin.
With a generation moving more toward working and spending leisure time inside, the rates of people lacking natural sun exposure is skyrocketing. This is negative because natural sunlight exposure, and the resulting creation of Vitamin D within one's body, results in protection against osteoporosis, bone loss, schizophrenia, many chronic diseases, and cancer.
In conclusion, it may be a great idea to take Vitamin D supplements and maybe even get a little extra sun- but don't forget to protect your skin! As Friedberg's study progresses, more information will be available about the specific correlation between Vitamin D and cancer life expectancy, but there are many safe ways to make sure you are optimizing your levels of Vitamin D in the meantime. The study is set to last five years, so by August 2022 it is possible that part of some cancer treatment will be turning to a more cost-efficient and natural direction.