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Vitamin D Helps Prevent Breast Cancer in Black Women

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

As if breast cancer wasn’t frightening and deadly enough, research shows that black women are 41% more likely to die from it. Though they are less likely to get it in the first place, the results are more often fatal when they do. Of course, no one wants to get breast cancer. No matter your race or background, it’s extremely dangerous. However, these findings should be a wake up call for black women to be especially diligent in being tested for breast cancer early on and also to take as many preventative measures as possible. Believe it or not, increased exposure to vitamin D will help.

A recent study explored the link between vitamin D and breast cancer in black women.  According to this case-control study, for black women, it is more difficult for the body to extract vitamin D from its most natural source—sunlight—because the pigmentation in the skin prevents it. However, the results of the study showed that women who had more vitamin D in their systems from external sources were less likely to get breast cancer. External sources include both sunlight and vitamin supplements. Though vitamin D is produced in the body sometimes, that type of vitamin is not the one that protects against breast cancer.  I am somewhat skeptical of this study because it does not consider any confounding variables, such as genetic predisposition and health care disparities in the management of breast cancer in Black women.  The patients were from the Northeast and there were no patients from the Caribbean or southern locales.  However, it is a start and a randomized clinical trial needs to be conducted to confirm their results in African-American women in the Sun Belt compared to those living in areas with less daily sunlight.

If you are of African American descent, it’s important that you start getting mammograms, as recommended, i.e., every one –two years between age 40 and 49 and then annually at 50 years of age.  Early detection is the best way to save yourself from the disease.  Too much sun exposure can be dangerous for the skin, but you should find out how much will allow vitamin D to be processed and utilized in cancer prevention. A supplement containing the vitamin is another good way to reap the benefits of it, and many women’s vitamins do contain small amounts.

In many cases, breast cancer is totally unpredictable and random. It might strike you no matter how you live your life. However, we should consider the results of this study because even if it doesn’t help, it certainly can’t hurt.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.