Vitamins in pancreatic cancer: a review of underlying mechanisms and future applications

Adv Nutr. 2015 Nov 13;6(6):774-802. doi: 10.3945/an.115.009456. Print 2015 Nov.


Although there is increasing evidence that vitamins influence pancreatic adenocarcinoma biology and carcinogenesis, a comprehensive review is lacking. In this study, we performed a PubMed literature search to review the anticancer mechanisms and the preclinical and clinical studies that support the development of the bioactive vitamins A, C, D, E, and K in pancreatic cancer intervention. Preclinical studies have shown promising results for vitamin A in pancreatic cancer prevention, with clinical trials showing intriguing responses in combination with immunotherapy. For vitamin C, preclinical studies have shown slower tumor growth rates and/or increased survival when used alone or in combination with gemcitabine, with clinical trials with this combination revealing decreased primary tumor sizes and improved performance status. Preclinical studies with vitamin D analogues have shown potent antiproliferative effects and repression of migration and invasion of pancreatic cancer cells, with a clinical trial showing increased time to progression when calciferol was added to docetaxel. For vitamin E, preclinical studies have shown that δ-tocotrienol and γ-tocotrienol inhibited tumor cell growth and survival and augmented gemcitabine activity. Early-phase clinical trials with δ-tocotrienol are ongoing. Vitamin K demonstrates activation of apoptosis and inhibition of cellular growth in pancreatic tumor cells; however, there are no clinical studies available for further evaluation. Although preclinical and clinical studies are encouraging, randomized controlled trials with endpoints based on insights gained from mechanistic and preclinical studies and early-phase clinical trials are required to determine the efficacy of bioactive vitamin interventions in pancreatic cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adenocarcinoma / prevention & control
  • Apoptosis
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / prevention & control
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Survival Rate
  • Vitamin A / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin K / administration & dosage
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage*


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Ascorbic Acid