Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancer forms because it metastasizes in a very special way. It appears, however, that vitamin D is able to counteract one of the mechanisms through which this cancer spreads, according to a new Japanese study that is published in Matrix Biology. It is a problem that vitamin D deficiencies are so common because the vitamin supports several anti-cancer mechanisms.
Ovarian cancer typically begins with malignant cellular changes in the fallopian tubes. This causes the disease to spread faster to the abdomen and other organs. In rarer cases, ovarian cancer begins in one or both ovaries. Here, the disease behaves differently by forming a tumor in the ovary. The tumor may possibly spread to the pleural cavity at a later stage. It can be difficult to discover ovarian cancer because its symptoms are not all that characteristic. For example, things like abdominal bloating, reduced appetite, nausea, or changes in bowel habits and urination may occur. Ovarian cancer will typically have spread quite a lot at the time it is discovered. The disease is divided into four stages (1 to 4).
Ovarian cancer is rarely seen in women younger than 40 years of age. It typically occurs in the age group 60-65 years. The most common therapy form is surgery followed by chemotherapy. The prognosis depends on the stage of the disease. Five years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, only 38 percent of patients can be expected to survive. That is why there is a huge need for better prevention and treatment.
There are several factors involved in ovarian cancer, where hereditary factors and gene mutations (breast cancer anti gene mutations BRCA1 and BRAC2) play a role. At the same time, they increase the risk of breast cancer.
Hormonal factors and childbirth are also relevant factors. Therefore, women who have given birth and women who have taken birth control pills for at least five years have a lower risk, and this is ascribed to having fewer ovulations. It also appears that the diet and vitamin D specifically play a vital role.
- Vitamin D is regarded as a steroid hormone
- It is commonly recognized that vitamin D is important for bone health
- It is not as known that vitamin D regulates different proteins and various genes that affect most cells in the body
Vitamin D’s potential in prevention and supplementary therapy
Ovarian cancer specifically spreads to the pleura or the diaphragm. The pleura contains cells (mesothelial cells) that normally serve as a barrier that prevents cancer cells from spreading. However, ovarian cancer cells team up with mesothelial cells, thereby undermining their defense. As a result, metastases spread from the pleural cavity to other body sites.
In the new study that was headed by Dr. Masato Yoshiara from the University of Nagoya, Japan, the scientists found that vitamin D prevents this spreading of cells. What vitamin D also does is to restore the original physiological function of the mesothelial cells, thereby enabling them to serve as an important barrier. That way, vitamin D can strengthen the mesothelial cells and prevent the ovarian cancer from spreading to other tissues.
The scientists behind the study looked closer cancer cells and their release of a protein called TGF-β1 that promotes cancer cell growth and the development of metastases. At the same time, levels of another protein called trombospondin-1 are increased. Elevated concentrations of this protein have been detected in the life-threatening stages of ovarian cancer that occur later. It looks as if vitamin D inhibits the growth of the cancer cells by disrupting their secretion of growth-promoting proteins like TGF-β1.
The study is the first to show vitamin D’s potential in normalizing mesothelial cells and the environment in the pleural cavity where ovarian cancer normally spreads.
Therefore, the researchers assume that the combination of vitamin D and traditional therapies can improve the outcome of treatments for this life-threatening disease. It may also be that vitamin D in itself contributes to the prevention of ovarian cancer. However, this would require enough vitamin D and optimal blood levels of the nutrient. The new study is published in Marix Biology.
Widespread lack of vitamin D and supplements to compensate for it
One billion people worldwide are believed to lack vitamin D. Too little sun exposure, ageing, having dark skin, or being obese can increase your risk of being vitamin D-deficient. The Veterinary and Food Administration in Denmark recommends for everyone to take vitamin D during the winter period. Vulnerable groups in society are advised to supplement with the nutrient all year round. The actual need for vitamin D varies from person to person. A physician can easily detect a vitamin D deficiency with a simple blood test. High-dosed vitamin D supplements with 20-100 micrograms of vitamin D are available on the market.
- Women in the ages 60-65 years are most likely to get ovarian cancer
- Old age, dark skin, and overweight increase the risk of lacking vitamin D
- Vitamin D has several anticancer mechanisms that include regulation of genes, the immune defense, and inflammatory processes
Kitami K et al. Peritoneal restoration by repurposing vitamin D inhibits ovarian cancer dissemination via blockade of the TGF-β1/thrombospondin-1 axis. Matrix Biology 2022
Emily Henderson. Vitamin D therapy may be useful addition to the treatment of ovarian cancer, study suggest. News-medical.net. 2022
William B. Grant. A Narrative Review of the Evidence for Variations in Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentration Thresholds for Optimal Health. Nutrients 2022
Debra Sullivan. What are the health benefits of vitamin D? MedicalNewsToday 2019
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