New research out of China has found that being deficient in both vitamin D and beta-carotene may increase risk for esophageal squamous cell cancer.
Esophageal cancer is characterized as a cancer that forms in the lining of the esophagus. Esophageal squamous cell cancer, specifically, is cancer that begins in the thin cells in the esophagus. In China, there are roughly 250,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Past research has suggested that vitamin D and beta-carotene may each have their own protective effects against cancer. Vitamin D deficiency may increase risk of cancer, while higher levels of vitamin D may be able to prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading. Healthy intake of beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, in its natural form (found in fruits and vegetables), has been associated with a decreased risk for certain cancers.
Researchers in the present study wanted to know if vitamin D and beta-carotene might be related to risk of esophageal cancer in the Huai’an District in China, a district with very high risk for esophageal cancer.
They recruited 100 ethnic Han Chinese with diagnosed esophageal cancer and compared their vitamin D and beta-carotene levels with 200 healthy participants.
They found that levels of both vitamin D and beta-carotene were lower in those with esophageal cancer compared to the healthy group.
The researchers then divided the vitamin D levels and beta-carotene levels into four quartiles for both groups and compared them. From lowest to highest levels, these quartiles were Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. Compared to Q1, the quartiles Q2, Q3, and Q4 for each vitamin D and beta-carotene were related to a reduced risk of esophageal cancer.
“In conclusion, our finding provides important evidences that a reduced risk of esophageal cancer may be associated with increased circulating concentrations of [vitamin D] and [beta-carotene],” the researchers stated.
The research team calls for future studies to look at larger populations to see the effects of vitamin D and beta-carotene on risk of esophageal cancer before diagnosis.
Huang, G. et al. Vitamin D3 and Beta-carotene Deficiency is Associated with Risk of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Results of a Case-control Study in China. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2014.