Vitamin D-Induced Molecular Mechanisms to Potentiate Cancer Therapy and to Reverse Drug-Resistance in Cancer Cells

Nutrients. 2020 Jun 17;12(6):1798. doi: 10.3390/nu12061798.


Increasing interest in studying the role of vitamin D in cancer has been provided by the scientific literature during the last years, although mixed results have been reported. Vitamin D deficiency has been largely associated with various types of solid and non-solid human cancers, and the almost ubiquitous expression of vitamin D receptor (VDR) has always led to suppose a crucial role of vitamin D in cancer. However, the association between vitamin D levels and the risk of solid cancers, such as colorectal, prostate and breast cancer, shows several conflicting results that raise questions about the use of vitamin D supplements in cancer patients. Moreover, studies on vitamin D supplementation do not always show improvements in tumor progression and mortality risk, particularly for prostate and breast cancer. Conversely, several molecular studies are in agreement about the role of vitamin D in inhibiting tumor cell proliferation, growth and invasiveness, cell cycle arrest and inflammatory signaling, through which vitamin D may also regulate cancer microenvironment through the activation of different molecular pathways. More recently, a role in the regulation of cancer stem cells proliferation and short non-coding microRNA (miRNAs) expression has emerged, conferring to vitamin D a more crucial role in cancer development and progression. Interestingly, it has been shown that vitamin D is able not only to potentiate the effects of traditional cancer therapy but can even contribute to overcome the molecular mechanisms of drug resistance-often triggering tumor-spreading. At this regard, vitamin D can act at various levels through the regulation of growth of cancer stem cells and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), as well as through the modulation of miRNA gene expression. The current review reconsiders epidemiological and molecular literature concerning the role of vitamin D in cancer risk and tumor development and progression, as well as the action of vitamin D supplementation in potentiating the effects of drug therapy and overcoming the mechanisms of resistance often triggered during cancer therapies, by critically addressing strengths and weaknesses of available data from 2010 to 2020.

Keywords: 1,25(OH)2vitamin D; breast cancer; calcitriol; colorectal cancer; drug-resistance; prostate cancer; vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review