Purpose: The purpose of this review is to summarize ecological studies of solar ultraviolet B (UVB), vitamin D and cancer since 2000.
Methods: The journal literature is surveyed and summarized.
Results: The ecological approach has been the primary tool used during the past two decades to extend the applicability of the UVB-vitamin D-cancer theory to include at least 18 types of cancer. Many of these studies were conducted in the United States, which has the advantages of availability of reliable age-standardized cancer incidence and mortality rate data for geographic areas at various spatial resolutions, and an asymmetric solar UVB dose pattern, with higher UVB irradiance in the west and lower in the east, at any particular latitude. In addition, indices for other cancer risk-modifying factors are readily available including those for smoking, alcohol consumption, ethnic background, urban/rural residence, socioeconomic status, air pollution, and in limited fashion, diet. The ecological approach has also been used to identify latitudinal variations in cancer mortality rates in Australia, China, Japan, and Spain, and in multicountry studies. It has been used to investigate the relative roles of solar UVB and dietary factors on a global scale. The ecological approach has also been applied to cancer survival. Studies in Norway and England found that individuals diagnosed with cancer in summer or fall, when serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels are highest, had a milder clinical course and longer survival than those diagnosed in winter or spring.
Conclusion: These findings provide strong evidence that vitamin D status plays an important role in controlling the outcome of cancer. Support for the UVB-vitamin D-cancer theory is now scientifically strong enough to warrant use of vitamin D in cancer prevention, and as a component of treatment. More research studies would help to explore whether there are benefits beyond the substantial effects that have been observed.