comscoreLow Vitamin D Levels Linked to Higher Breast Cancer Risk in Black and Hispanic Women

Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Higher Breast Cancer Risk in Black and Hispanic Women

Black and Hispanic women who had low levels of vitamin D in their blood were more likely to develop breast cancer than women with sufficient levels.
May 4, 2022.
 

Black and Hispanic women who had low levels of vitamin D in their blood were more likely to develop breast cancer than women with sufficient levels, according to a small study.

The research was published online on April 25, 2022, by the journal Cancer. Read “Vitamin D concentrations and breast cancer incidence among Black/African American and non-Black Hispanic/Latina women.”

 

About vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for good bone health. Vitamin D also helps the immune, muscle, and nervous systems function properly. Most vitamin D is made when an inactive form of the nutrient is activated in skin that’s exposed to sunlight. You can get smaller amounts of vitamin D in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk.

Vitamin D may play a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and may be able to stop breast cancer cells from growing. Studies suggest that vitamin D may protect against some diseases, including breast cancer.

 

About the study

Previous research has found that Black and Hispanic women tend to have lower levels of vitamin D than white women. In this study, the researchers wanted to see if there were any links between vitamin D levels and breast cancer risk in Black and Hispanic women.

The researchers used information from the Sister Study, an ongoing study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The study includes more than 50,000 women ages 35 to 74 from the United States and Puerto Rico who enrolled between 2003 and 2009. When the women first enrolled in the study, they:

  • had a sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer

  • had not been diagnosed themselves

  • provided researchers with a blood sample

  • filled out detailed health questionnaires

The women also provide researchers with basic updates each year and fill out detailed health questionnaires every three years.

The researchers analyzed vitamin D levels in blood samples from 1,862 women:

  • 1,300 women were Black

  • 562 women were Hispanic

The researchers then identified how many of the 1,862 women were diagnosed with either invasive breast cancer or DCIS between their blood draw for the Sister Study and September 2018, which was 9.2 years of follow-up time:

  • 290 Black women were diagnosed with breast cancer

  • 125 Hispanic women were diagnosed with breast cancer

Overall, the researchers found that women who had sufficient vitamin D levels had a 21% lower breast cancer rate than women who were considered to have a vitamin D deficiency. This link was stronger for Hispanic women, who had a 48% lower breast cancer rate if they had sufficient vitamin D levels. Black women had an 11% lower breast cancer rate if they had sufficient vitamin D levels.

“In a prospective study of circulating vitamin D biomarkers and incident breast cancer conducted among self-identified Black/African American and non-Black Hispanic/Latina women, we observed an inverse association between total circulating [vitamin D levels] and incident breast cancer,” the researchers wrote. “The association was potentially stronger among Hispanic/Latinas. Although many questions remain, these findings add to the evidence that vitamin D protects against breast cancer and highlight a possible path for intervention in two racial/ethnic groups with a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.”

 

What this means for you

This study adds to the evidence showing that vitamin D may help protect against breast cancer. But more research is needed to understand the links between vitamin D and breast cancer, as well as which levels of vitamin D are the most beneficial.

Still, it may make sense to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D level and see if taking a vitamin D supplement is right for you. You also can ask your doctor whether you should get more direct sunlight exposure. Even short periods of direct peak sun exposure — 15 minutes, three times a week, for example — can give you more than the recommended daily amount of vitamin D. It’s important to remember that although sun exposure offers vitamin D benefits, it also has risks. Sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, the most dangerous type.

Learn more about Low Vitamin D Levels.

Written by: Jamie DePolo, senior editor

— Last updated on May 12, 2022, 7:09 PM

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