Information on the latest vitamin D news and research.

Find out more information on deficiency, supplementation, sun exposure, and how vitamin D relates to your health.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is cancer of the component of the male reproductive system that provides some of the semen.

Prostate cancer is an important cause of disease and death. In the United States each year, the disease affects about 240,000 men and kills approximately 34,000.

Risk factors

A number of risk factors are associated with prostate cancer. The most important include:

  • Diet high in animal products: Eating a lot of meat, eggs and dairy products, especially early in life, causes the body to produce a growth factor. Growth factors help the body grow. They also help tumors grow. Dairy products contain calcium and cholesterol. These products may also increase the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Calcium: High amounts of calcium, either from diet or supplements, may be a risk factor.
  • Cholesterol: High cholesterol levels are linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Cholesterol does not appear to affect risk of other cancers.
  • Genetics: Part of a gene sequence increases body cholesterol. This same sequence may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Genetics may explain why African-Americans have twice the rate of prostate cancer as European-Americans.

Sunlight exposure and prostate cancer risk

According to several studies, sunlight has a direct effect on lowering prostate cancer risks. This is especially true for people who had early-to-midlife sun exposure. The ultraviolet-B (UVB) portion of sunlight stimulates the body to produce vitamin D.

Studies also found that men who develop basal or squamous cell carcinoma (non-melanoma skin cancer) have a lower risk of prostate cancer if they live where it is warm enough to expose more than just face and hands.

Norwegian studies found increased survival rates for men diagnosed in summer, when there is more sunlight, compared to those diagnosed in winter.

Vitamin D and prostate cancer risk

Observational studies looking at vitamin D blood levels up to 27 years before diagnosis of prostate cancer generally did not find that vitamin D lowered the risk of this disease. Vitamin D may have little effect on prostate cancer as it progresses from the earliest growth stages until the disease is detected.

However, a recent study from Harvard involving health care professionals found that those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to die of prostate cancer than those with higher vitamin D levels.

How vitamin D works

Calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, is produced by the body. Calcitriol provides numerous benefits against cancers. This form of vitamin D encourages cells to either adapt to their organ or commit apoptosis (cell suicide). Calcitriol also limits blood supply to the tumor and reduces the spread of cancer. These may be the roles that vitamin D plays in prostate cancer, near the beginning and end stages.


Exposure to sunlight in early years to midlife may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Vitamin D may prevent prostate cancer at the earliest stages as well as reduce the risk of death from prostate cancer.


It appears as if vitamin D supplements could be used to treat those with prostate cancer; however, no studies have reported beneficial effects yet.


This evidence summary was written by:

William B. Grant, Ph.D.
Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC)
P.O. Box 641603
San Francisco, CA 94164-1603, USA

Last updated

June 2011

Complete bibliography of research used in this summary

The research we have cited in our summary is listed below, with links to PubMed abstracts and full-text for those who wish to explore further.


  1. Ahn, J. Peters, U. Albanes, D. Purdue, M. P. Abnet, C. C. Chatterjee, N. Horst, R. L. Hollis, B. W. Huang, W. Y. Shikany, J. M. Hayes, R. B. Serum vitamin D concentration and prostate cancer risk: a nested case-control study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 Jun 4; 100 (11): 796-804.
  2. Barnett, C. M. Nielson, C. M. Shannon, J. Chan, J. M. Shikany, J. M. Bauer, D. C. Hoffman, A. R. Barrett-Connor, E. Orwoll, E. Beer, T. M. Serum 25-OH vitamin D levels and risk of developing prostate cancer in older men. Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Aug; 21 (8): 1297-303.
  3. Bodiwala, D. Luscombe, C. J. French, M. E. Liu, S. Saxby, M. F. Jones, P. W. Fryer, A. A. Strange, R. C. Polymorphisms in the vitamin D receptor gene, ultraviolet radiation, and susceptibility to prostate cancer. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004; 43 (2): 121-7.
  4. Boucher, B. J. “Inverse correlation between serum free IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 levels and blood pressure in patients affected with type 1 diabetes” by Capoluongo et al. Cytokine. 2007 Mar; 37 (3): 181-2; author reply 183-4.
  5. Bower CP, Lear JT, Bygrave S, Etherington D, Harvey I, Archer CB Basal cell carcinoma and risk of subsequent malignancies: A cancer registry-based study in southwest England. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000 Jun; 42 (6): 988-91.
  6. Brittingham, A. de la Cruz, G. P. Ancestry 2000. Census 2000 Brief CK2BR-35. 2004;
  7. Colli, J. L. Colli, A. International comparisons of prostate cancer mortality rates with dietary practices and sunlight levels. Urol Oncol. 2006 May-Jun; 24 (3): 184-94.
  8. de Vries, E. Soerjomataram, I. Houterman, S. Louwman, M. W. Coebergh, J. W. Decreased risk of prostate cancer after skin cancer diagnosis: a protective role of ultraviolet radiation?. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Apr 15; 165 (8): 966-72.
  9. Devesa, S. S. Grauman, D. J. Blot, W. J. Pennello, G. A. Hoover, R. N. Fraumeni, J. F. Jr. Atlas of Cancer Mortality in the United States, 1950-1994. NIH Publication No. 99-4564. 1999 April 17, 2010;
  10. Gandini, S. Boniol, M. Haukka, J. Byrnes, G. Cox, B. Sneyd, M. J. Mullie, P. Autier, P. Meta-analysis of observational studies of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and colorectal, breast and prostate cancer and colorectal adenoma. Int J Cancer. 2010 May 6;
  11. Gilbert, R. Metcalfe, C. Oliver, S. E. Whiteman, D. C. Bain, C. Ness, A. Donovan, J. Hamdy, F. Neal, D. E. Lane, J. A. Martin, R. M. Life course sun exposure and risk of prostate cancer: population-based nested case-control study and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2009 Sep 15; 125 (6): 1414-23.
  12. Grant, W. B. The effect of solar UVB doses and vitamin D production, skin cancer action spectra, and smoking in explaining links between skin cancers and solid tumours. Eur J Cancer. 2008 Jan; 44 (1): 12-5.
  13. Grant, W. B. Vitamin D may reduce prostate cancer metastasis by several mechanisms including blocking Stat3. Am J Pathol. 2008 Nov; 173 (5): 1589-90.
  14. Grant, W. B. Critique of the U-shaped serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level-disease response relation. Dermato-endocrinology. 2009 Nov.-Dec.; 1 (6): 281-315.
  15. Grant, W. B. A multicountry ecological study of risk-modifying factors for prostate cancer: apolipoprotein E epsilon4 as a risk factor and cereals as a risk reduction factor. Anticancer Res. 2010 Jan; 30 (1): 189-99.
  16. Grant WB. Benefits of vitamin D in reducing the risk of cancer: Time to include vitamin D in cancer treatment? J Soc Integr Oncol. 2010;8:81–8.
  17. Grant, W. B. Garland, C. F. The association of solar ultraviolet B (UVB) with reducing risk of cancer: multifactorial ecologic analysis of geographic variation in age-adjusted cancer mortality rates. Anticancer Res. 2006 Jul-Aug; 26 (4A): 2687-99.
  18. Grant, W. B. Vitamin D may reduce prostate cancer metastasis by several mechanisms including blocking Stat3. Am J Pathol. 2008 Nov; 173 (5): 1589-90.
  19. Grant, W. B. Effect of interval between serum draw and follow-up period on relative risk of cancer incidence with respect to 25-hydroxyvitamin D level; implications for meta-analyses and setting vitamin D guidelines. Dermato-endocrinology. 2011; 3 (3):
  20. Grant, W. B. The roles of ultraviolet-B irradiance, vitamin D, apolipoprotein E epsilon4, and diet in the risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 2011 Jan; 22 (1): 157-8.
  21. Gupta, D. Lammersfeld, C. A. Trukova, K. Lis, C. G. Vitamin D and prostate cancer risk: a review of the epidemiological literature. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2009 Apr 7;
  22. Halthur, C. Johansson, A. L. Almquist, M. Malm, J. Gronberg, H. Manjer, J. Dickman, P. W. Serum calcium and the risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Sep; 20 (7): 1205-14.
  23. Hanchette, C. L. Schwartz, G. G. Geographic patterns of prostate cancer mortality. Evidence for a protective effect of ultraviolet radiation. Cancer. 1992 Dec 15; 70 (12): 2861-9.
  24. Huncharek, M. Muscat, J. Kupelnick, B. Dairy products, dietary calcium and vitamin D intake as risk factors for prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of 26,769 cases from 45 observational studies. Nutr Cancer. 2008; 60 (4): 421-41.
  25. Hypponen, E. Boucher, B. J. Berry, D. J. Power, C. 25-hydroxyvitamin D, IGF-1, and metabolic syndrome at 45 years of age: a cross-sectional study in the 1958 British Birth Cohort. Diabetes. 2008 Feb; 57 (2): 298-305.
  26. Iso, H. Ikeda, A. Inoue, M. Sato, S. Tsugane, S. Serum cholesterol levels in relation to the incidence of cancer: The JPHC Study Cohorts. Int J Cancer. 2009 Jun 19;
  27. Lim, U. Freedman, D. M. Hollis, B. W. Horst, R. L. Purdue, M. P. Chatterjee, N. Weinstein, S. J. Morton, L. M. Schatzkin, A. Virtamo, J. Linet, M. S. Hartge, P. Albanes, D. A prospective investigation of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and risk of lymphoid cancers. Int J Cancer. 2009 Feb 15; 124 (4): 979-86.
  28. Park, S. Y. Cooney, R. V. Wilkens, L. R. Murphy, S. P. Henderson, B. E. Kolonel, L. N. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and prostate cancer risk: the multiethnic cohort. Eur J Cancer. 2010 Mar; 46 (5): 932-6.
  29. Robsahm, T. E. Tretli, S. Dahlback, A. Moan, J. Vitamin D3 from sunlight may improve the prognosis of breast-, colon- and prostate cancer (Norway). Cancer Causes Control. 2004 Mar; 15 (2): 149-58.
  30. Rukin, N. J. Zeegers, M. P. Ramachandran, S. Luscombe, C. J. Liu, S. Saxby, M. Lear, J. Strange, R. C. A comparison of sunlight exposure in men with prostate cancer and basal cell carcinoma. Br J Cancer. 2007 Feb 12; 96 (3): 523-8.
  31. Schumacher, F. R. Cheng, I. Freedman, M. L. Mucci, L. Allen, N. E. Pollak, M. N. Hayes, R. B. Stram, D. O. Canzian, F. Henderson, B. E. Hunter, D. J. Virtamo, J. Manjer, J. Gaziano, J. M. Kolonel, L. N. Tjonneland, A. Albanes, D. Calle, E. E. Giovannucci, E. Crawford, E. D. Haiman, C. A. Kraft, P. Willett, W. C. Thun, M. J. Le Marchand, L. Kaaks, R. Feigelson, H. S. Bueno-de-Mesquita, H. B. Palli, D. Riboli, E. Lund, E. Amiano, P. Andriole, G. Dunning, A. M. Trichopoulos, D. Stampfer, M. J. Key, T. J. Ma, J. A comprehensive analysis of common IGF1, IGFBP1 and IGFBP3 genetic variation with prospective IGF-I and IGFBP-3 blood levels and prostate cancer risk among Caucasians. Hum Mol Genet. 2010 Aug 1; 19 (15): 3089-101.
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  35. Schwartz, G. G. Hanchette, C. L. UV, latitude, and spatial trends in prostate cancer mortality: all sunlight is not the same (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 2006 Oct; 17 (8): 1091-101.
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  37. Skinner, H. G. Litzelman, K. Schwartz, G. G. Recent clinical trials of vitamin D3 supplementation and serum calcium levels in humans: Implications for vitamin D-based chemoprevention. Curr Opin Investig Drugs. 2010 Jun; 11 (6): 678-87.
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  40. Soerjomataram, I. de Vries, E. Response: Risk of prostate, breast and colorectal cancer after skin cancer diagnosis. Int J Cancer. 2009 Apr 1; 124 (7): 1739-40; author reply 1743-4.
  41. Travis, R. C. Crowe, F. L. Allen, N. E. Appleby, P. N. Roddam, A. W. Tjonneland, A. Olsen, A. Linseisen, J. Kaaks, R. Boeing, H. Kroger, J. Trichopoulou, A. Dilis, V. Trichopoulos, D. Vineis, P. Palli, D. Tumino, R. Sieri, S. Bueno-de-Mesquita, H. B. van Duijnhoven, F. J. Chirlaque, M. D. Barricarte, A. Larranaga, N. Gonzalez, C. A. Arguelles, M. V. Sanchez, M. J. Stattin, P. Hallmans, G. Khaw, K. T. Bingham, S. Rinaldi, S. Slimani, N. Jenab, M. Riboli, E. Key, T. J. Serum Vitamin D and Risk of Prostate Cancer in a Case-Control Analysis Nested Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Apr 9;
  42. Tretli, S. Hernes, E. Berg, J. P. Hestvik, U. E. Robsahm, T. E. Association between serum 25(OH)D and death from prostate cancer. Br J Cancer. 2009 Feb 10; 100 (3): 450-4.
  43. Tuohimaa, P. Lyakhovich, A. Aksenov, N. Pennanen, P. Syvala, H. Lou, Y. R. Ahonen, M. Hasan, T. Pasanen, P. Blauer, M. Manninen, T. Miettinen, S. Vilja, P. Ylikomi, T. Vitamin D and prostate cancer. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2001 Jan-Mar; 76 (1-5): 125-34.
  44. Tuohimaa, P. Tenkanen, L. Ahonen, M. Lumme, S. Jellum, E. Hallmans, G. Stattin, P. Harvei, S. Hakulinen, T. Luostarinen, T. Dillner, J. Lehtinen, M. Hakama, M. Both high and low levels of blood vitamin D are associated with a higher prostate cancer risk: a longitudinal, nested case-control study in the Nordic countries. Int J Cancer. 2004 Jan 1; 108 (1): 104-8.
  45. Tuohimaa, P. Pukkala, E. Scelo, G. Olsen, J. H. Brewster, D. H. Hemminki, K. Tracey, E. Weiderpass, E. Kliewer, E. V. Pompe-Kirn, V. McBride, M. L. Martos, C. Chia, K. S. Tonita, J. M. Jonasson, J. G. Boffetta, P. Brennan, P. Does solar exposure, as indicated by the non-melanoma skin cancers, protect from solid cancers: vitamin D as a possible explanation. Eur J Cancer. 2007 Jul; 43 (11): 1701-12.
  46. Tuohimaa, P. Tenkanen, L. Ahonen, M. Lumme, S. Jellum, E. Hallmans, G. Stattin, P. Harvei, S. Hakulinen, T. Luostarinen, T. Dillner, J. Lehtinen, M. Hakama, M. Both high and low levels of blood vitamin D are associated with a higher prostate cancer risk: a longitudinal, nested case-control study in the Nordic countries. Int J Cancer. 2004 Jan 1; 108 (1): 104-8.
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