For Women with Breast Cancer, Higher Vitamin D Levels Associated with Improved Survival

Roswell Park/Kaiser Permanente study strengthens evidence that vitamin D helps fight cancer

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new study adds to the evidence that vitamin D can help fight some forms of cancer. The study, which was led by researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Kaiser Permanente, shows that women with higher levels of vitamin D when diagnosed with breast cancer experienced longer cancer-free survival and were about 30% less likely to die from the disease. The study was published online ahead of print today by the journal JAMA Oncology.

“This large prospective observational study provides compelling evidence that higher levels of vitamin D at the time of breast cancer diagnosis can reduce the risk of breast cancer progression and death,” says the first author of the study, Song Yao, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park. “The reduced risk was more pronounced in younger women, specifically those diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. Our study suggests that vitamin D may extend survival in women diagnosed with breast cancer.”

The researchers examined the vitamin D status of 1,666 women diagnosed with breast cancer from 2006 to 2013 and followed the women for the next seven years, on average, documenting the frequency of breast cancer recurrence, second primary cancer and death. They found that those women with the highest levels of vitamin D experienced an increased 30% overall survival. Women with higher vitamin D levels also had 48% better recurrence-free survival and 63% better breast cancer-specific survival. The findings were adjusted for contributing factors that include age, obesity, and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, exercise, smoking, the season of blood collection and tumor characteristics.

Roswell Park and Kaiser Permanente Northern California are co-principal investigators of the Pathways Study, a National Cancer Institute (NCI) funded prospective study of women with breast cancer. Lawrence H. Kushi, ScD, research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research is the Principal Investigator for Kaiser Permanente. The study was established in 2006 to specially examine genetic factors and their role in the treatment and survival of breast cancer.

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator of the Pathways Study and Senior Vice President of Population Sciences at Roswell Park, adds: “The Pathway Study is already an invaluable resource and one that now provides compelling evidence of the association between vitamin D and breast cancer outcomes. Researchers at Roswell Park and Kaiser Permanente are working in concert to identify factors that impact morbidity and mortality associated with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, with an ultimate goal to improve these outcomes.”

This research was supported, in part, by grants from the National Cancer Institute (project nos. R01CA105274, R01CA166701; U01CA195565, U19CA079689, U24CA171524 and P30CA016056) and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The study, “Association of Serum Level of Vitamin D at Diagnosis with Breast Cancer Survival: A Case-Cohort Analysis in the Pathways Study,” is available here.


The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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Deborah Pettibone, Public Information Specialist