Vitamin D could help in fighting pediatric bone cancer

A study by a group of Kansas University researchers found that vitamin D can cause cancerous bone cells to turn to normal bone cells.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, could lead to a new treatment in fighting pediatric bone cancer, which has a survival rate of 60 percent to 70 percent.

Recent studies have shown vitamin D can inhibit the growth of malignant cells in breast, prostate and colon cancer. Kim Templeton, an orthopedic surgeon at Kansas University Hospital, was among the experts on a panel that discussed vitamin D research and cancer. She was surprised that none of the studies or trials included the effect of vitamin D on osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor that mainly affects children and adolescents.

“It’s the most common type of bone cancer in kids and teenagers and vitamin D is critical to bone health,” she said. So an interdisciplinary team at the Kansas University Medical Center came together to study how vitamin D affects bone cancer. The team used cancerous tumor cells to do the research.

“My question was if the tumor recognizes Vitamin D and if it would help control the cells,” Templeton said. In the laboratory tests, not only did the cancerous cells recognize the vitamin D, but it prevented the osteosarcoma cells from replicating as quickly and promoted the growth of normal bone cells.

“What should happen and what does happen (in the lab) is always two different things,” Templeton said. “So, I was happy it turned out the way we thought it would.”

The findings are important for a cancer who hasn’t seen the treatment methods or rate of survival change in the past 20 to 25 years. Most osteosarcoma patients undergo 10 weeks of chemotherapy before the tumor is removed.

The findings suggest that a normal size dose of vitamin D could become another tool in the treatment of osteosarcoma. Unlike chemotherapy, normal doses of vitamin D don’t have any negative side effects and it is inexpensive.

Before clinical trials on humans can began, researchers would have to test the effects of vitamin D on animals, which might include large dogs since they have a high rate of osteosarcoma.

Templeton said the findings don’t suggest people should start taking vitamin D to prevent bone cancer. Although that is a connection researchers might study in the future.

By Christine Metz

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