Vitamin D: What Role Does it Play in Melanoma?

September 01, 2013

Research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute has discovered a possible paradox involving Vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine” vitamin, and skin cancer. Frederick Singer, MD, director of the endocrinology and bone disease program at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, is collaborating with Donald L. Morton, MD, to study an intriguing link between vitamin D levels and survival in patients with melanoma.

Vitamin D has received a lot of scrutiny in recent years. Studies show many Americans are deficient in the nutrient – perhaps because they are being more careful about sun exposure or are using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Vitamin D is naturally manufactured by the body from sun exposure. That’s why it’s important to get at least some sun exposure or take vitamin D supplements.

While vitamin D is known for its importance in bone health, studies over the past decade suggest the nutrient also plays a role in the function of many other organs and disease processes. That means that people who are deficient in vitamin D – about 42% of U.S. adults – may be affected by the deficiency in a variety of ways.

Since some studies suggest vitamin D deficiency can play a role in cancer, Dr. Singer utilized the Institute’s tumor repository to examine vitamin D levels in 360 people with melanoma. The data is still being compiled. So far, his research suggests that people with lower levels of vitamin D have worse outcomes in melanoma survival.

“It’s a conundrum,” Dr. Singer says. “You get too much sun – damaging your skin and your immune system – and then you get melanoma. But there’s also evidence that vitamin D deficiency may make some cancers worse.”

Vitamin d inpactBones – osteoporosis
Colon, breast, prostate, skin (melanoma) – cancer
Heart – cardiovascular disease
Pancreas – diabetes
Immune system – multiple sclerosis
Joints – rheumatoid arthritis
Intestines – Crohn's disease
Lungs – tuberculosis, asthma
Brain – depression
Uterus – preeclampsia

+ Dr. Singer’s research receives generous support from The Lois Rosen Family and The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation.

+ Dr. Morton’s research receives generous support from the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.