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“Vitamin D is essential to maintaining bone health and women with breast cancer have accelerated bone loss due to the nature of hormone therapy and chemotherapy,” says Luke Peppone.

U. ROCHESTER (US)—Women with breast cancer should be given high doses of vitamin D because a majority of them are likely to have low levels, which could contribute to decreased bone mass and greater risk of fractures.

That recommendation is based on results from a study at the University of Rochester that included 166 women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Researchers found nearly 70 percent had low levels of vitamin D in their blood, and women with late-stage disease and non-Caucasian women had even lower levels. Findings were presented Oct. 8 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.

“Vitamin D is essential to maintaining bone health and women with breast cancer have accelerated bone loss due to the nature of hormone therapy and chemotherapy. It’s important for women and their doctors to work together to boost their vitamin D intake,” says Luke Peppone, research assistant professor of radiation oncology at Rochester’s James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.

Scientists analyzed vitamin D levels in each woman and the average level was 27 nanograms per milliliter, showing more than two-thirds of the women had the vitamin deficiency. Weekly supplementation with high doses of vitamin D—50,000 international units or more—improved the levels, according to Peppone’s study.

The U.S. Institute of Medicine suggests that blood levels nearing 32 nanograms per milliliter are adequate.

This problem is not unexpected, Peppone adds, because previous studies have shown that nearly half of all men and women are deficient in the nutrient, with vitamin D levels below 32 nanograms per milliliter.

Vitamin D, obtained from milk, fortified cereals and exposure to sunlight, is well known to play an essential role in cell growth, in boosting the body’s immune system and in strengthening bones.

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include muscle pain, weak bones/fractures, low energy and fatigue, lowered immunity, symptoms of depression and mood swings, and sleep irregularities, many of which are common for women undergoing breast cancer treatment.

The work was supported by the National Cancer Institute.

University of Rochester news: www.rochester.edu/news