The roles of UVB and vitamin D in reducing risk of cancer incidence and mortality: A review of the epidemiology, clinical trials, and mechanisms

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2017 Jun;18(2):167-182. doi: 10.1007/s11154-017-9415-2.


Global cancer incidence and mortality rates are high and increasing. Thus, it is imperative to find novel solutions to preventing cancer incidence and treating it at an affordable yet efficacious manner. The solar UVB-vitamin D-cancer hypothesis was first proposed in 1980 based on a geographical ecological study. Since then, numerous ecological and observational studies as well as studies of mechanisms have provided support for the hypothesis. However, observational studies have not provided consistent support, in part due to using a single blood draw from any season to use for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentration in prospective studies with long follow-up times. Case-controls studies, in which blood is drawn near time of diagnosis, and prospective studies in which blood is drawn in the sunnier half of the year, are more likely to find significant inverse relations between 25(OH)D and cancer incidence. Three vitamin D plus calcium clinical trials have found significant reduction in all-cancer incidence. This paper reviews the evidence for vitamin D in reducing incidence of and increasing survival from breast, colorectal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. The epidemiological evidence provides strong support for all of these types of cancer except for non-aggressive prostate cancer. Studies of the cellular mechanisms of vitamin D action in different cancer cell types, strongly indicate that vitamin D can exert protective and anti-tumorigenic activities that would retard cellular transformation, hyperplasia and cancer progression. Based on the scientific evidence reviewed in this paper, individuals and health providers can consider increasing 25(OH)D concentrations through sensible sun exposure and/or vitamin D supplementation to reduce risk of and, in conjunction with standard care, treat cancer. Public health acceptance of vitamin D for cancer prevention and treatment requires stronger support from vitamin D clinical trials.

Keywords: Breast; Cancer; Clinical trials; Colorectal; Epidemiology; Incidence; Lung; Mechanisms; Ovarian; Pancreatic; Prevention; Prostate; Risk; Ultraviolet-B; Vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic* / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sunlight
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Vitamin D / physiology*


  • Vitamin D