Azara Blog: Vitamin D allegedly good for lung cancer patients

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Date published: 2005/04/23

The BBC says:

Lung cancer patients who have surgery in the winter are 40% more likely to die of the disease than those operated on in the summer, a US study suggests.

A study of 456 patients found high levels of vitamin D - from sun exposure and food supplements - had a positive impact on the success of surgery.

The Harvard University team said more research was needed and patients should not expect surgery in the summer.

UK experts said it was interesting but warned sun exposure could be dangerous.

Lead researcher Wei Zhou said: "This study in no way suggests that people should try to time their cancer surgeries for a particular season - that would obviously be impossible.

Researchers studied the treatment of 456 lung cancer patients of which only 10% had had either radiation treatment of chemotherapy.

Looking at the effect of the seasons, the team found patients who had operations in the winter were 40% more likely to die from their cancer than those who had the operation in the summer.

When the joint effect of the season and vitamin D levels were taken into consideration, there was a three-fold better chance of survival, evidence presented to the American Association of Cancer Research showed.

Vitamin D might well be doing the trick, but this sounds like another example of confusing correlation and causation. Could there be another reason that patients do better in summer than in winter? How about that the world is a much cheerier place in summer than in winter. There is nothing worse for the spirits than endless month of low light and gray skies. Blue skies and green grass must do wonders for loads of people, not just lung cancer patients. Of course it could be that Vitamin D is directly causing (rather than just being correlated with) the positive impact, as the researchers seem to be claiming, and that theory is easy to test. Just take two randomly chosen groups of lung cancer patients and give half Vitamin D supplements and the other half not, and see whether either group does (statistically significantly) better.

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