A critical review of Vitamin D and Cancer: A report of the IARC Working Group

Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Jan;1(1):25-33. doi: 10.4161/derm.1.1.7729.


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report, Vitamin D and Cancer, on November 25, 2008. The report focused on the current state of knowledge and level of evidence of a causal association between vitamin D status and cancer risk. Although presenting and evaluating evidence for the beneficial role of UVB and vitamin D in reducing the risk of cancer, it discounted or omitted important evidence in support of the efficacy of vitamin D. The report largely dismissed or ignored ecological studies on the grounds that confounding factors might have affected the findings. The report accepted a preventive role of vitamin D in colorectal cancer but not for breast cancer.The only randomized controlled trial (RCT) on cancer incidence that used a sufficiently high dose of vitamin D (1,100 IU/day) and calcium (1,400-1,500 mg/day) found a 77% reduction in the risk of all-cancer incidence in postmenopausal women who received both, of which approximately 35% reduction in risk was attributed to vitamin D alone. Unfairly, the report dismissed these findings on the basis of a flawed critique.The report called for RCTs of vitamin D supplementation to settle the issue. Although RCTs theoretically would be beneficial, development of sound and effective public health policies does not necessarily depend on them, and the field of vitamin D, calcium and chronic disease has reached the point where RCTs may not be ethical.The IARC report should therefore not form the basis for public health policy decisions.

Keywords: 25-hydroxyvitamin D; cancer; melanoma; randomized controlled trial; skin cancer; supplementation; ultraviolet; vitamin D.