Research presented at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology reports a link between vitamin D deficiency and Merkel cell carcinoma.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer in which malignant cancer cells develop in hair follicles, or on or beneath the skin.
Dr Mahtab Samimi and colleagues found that 58 of the 89 Merkel cell carcinoma patients were vitamin D deficient (<20 ng/mL). During follow up, 19 participants died.
The 4-year metastasis-free survival rate was 20% in the vitamin D-deficient patients, and 70% in patients with sufficient vitamin D levels. The researchers also found that the 4-year Merkel cell carcinoma-free survival rate was 40% in the vitamin D deficient patients and more than 90% in vitamin D sufficient patients.
The authors report that low vitamin D status was independently associated with a 2.9-fold increased risk of developing nodal and or metastases and a 5.3-fold increased risk for mortality resulting from malignancy. The researchers also found that the vitamin D deficient patients had a greater mean tumor size when compared with vitamin D sufficient patients (p=0.018).
Dr Samimi emphasizes that the research does not prove causality, and further studies should continue to investigate the association. A limitation to the study was that the researchers didn’t measure serum vitamin D until an average of 3 months after Merkel cell carcinoma diagnosis.
Dr Samimi did state she does advise her melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma patients to supplement if they are vitamin D deficient.
“The protective role of doing this in terms of cancer prognosis is not proven, but at the very least the supplementation has beneficial effects on skeletal and muscle health, so it’s a good thing.”