In 2009, a study found that sufficient levels of vitamin D in the body can help in the survival of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients. Deficiency in this vitamin was also linked to increased risk of this form of cancer. Before we get down on how this was found, let's first get to know what this form of cancer is.
What is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a form of cancer that involves the lymphatic system. This refers to the system of lymph nodes that are connected by vessels. These lymph nodes form a network. They work together to drain the fluid and waste products from the other bodily organs. The spleen is the largest organ of the system while the lymph nodes are tiny filters that strain invasive organism and cancerous cells.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells that fight invaders like viruses, bacteria and fungi. Their purpose is to destroy these infection-causing organisms before they enter the bloodstream. This is why, when the lymphatic system is fighting an infection, you'll notice that your lymph nodes swell. This is a normal response that indicates that the lymphocytes are fighting the infection.
When these white blood cells multiply abnormally, they produce cancer cells that invade the healthy tissues in the body. Lymphoma is classified into two types: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The latter is more common and it has several other subcategories depending on the cancer cells' size, growth patterns, arrangement and aggressiveness.
What causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?
Unfortunately, for most cases of this particular type of cancer, the cause is never identified. However, some medical conditions are said to increase the risk. These include ataxia-telangectasia, common variable immunodeficiency, severe combined immunodeficiency, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, and X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome. Other possible risk factors are Down syndrome, Klinefelter's syndrome, Sjögren's syndrome, Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, family history of this type of cancer, HIV infection, Epstein-Barr viral infection, and stomach ulcers.
What is the role of vitamin D in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?
According to the researchers at the Mayo Clinic who conducted the study on vitamin D's role in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, patients who had deficiency in vitamin D levels are twice at greater risk of dying from this cancer than other patients. Low levels of this vitamin also speed up the progression of the cancer cells.
Matthew Drake, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., stated in a news release that the findings provided a strong link between vitamin D and outcome of the cancer. He said however that there's an issue on whether supplementation of vitamin D can still aid in the treatment at the stage of malignancy or not anymore.
The study involved 374 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients. Half of them had vitamin D deficiency. The results showed that those half who were deficient in vitamin D were two times more at risk of dying and 1.5 times more likely to have more immediate cancer growth and spread.
This research gives strong evidence that vitamin D indeed plays an important role in cancer risk reduction and cancer survival. Sadly, the American diet doesn't provide sufficient amount of this vitamin. Only few of the foods and drinks that we consume every day are fortified with vitamin D. Limited exposure to sunlight is another culprit. Striving to get more vitamin D through proper diet or sunlight exposure in the early morning is a step away from cancer risk.