Effect of Vitamin D3 Supplements on Development of Advanced Cancer: A Secondary Analysis of the VITAL Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Nov 2;3(11):e2025850. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.25850.


Importance: Epidemiologic and trial data suggest that vitamin D supplementation may reduce metastatic cancer and cancer mortality, reflecting shared biological pathways.

Objective: To follow up on the possible reduction in cancer death in the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) with an evaluation of whether vitamin D reduces the incidence of advanced (metastatic or fatal) cancer and an examination possible effect modification by body mass index.

Design, setting, and participants: VITAL is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2 × 2 factorial clinical trial of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, 2000 IU/d) and marine omega-3 fatty acids (1 g/d). This multicenter clinical trial was conducted in the United States; participants included men aged 50 years or older and women aged 55 years or older who were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease at baseline. Randomization took place from November 2011 through March 2014, and study medication ended on December 31, 2017. Data for this secondary analysis were analyzed from November 1, 2011, to December 31, 2017.

Interventions: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, 2000 IU/d) and marine omega-3 fatty acids (1 g/d) supplements.

Main outcomes and measures: For the present analysis, the primary outcome was a composite incidence of metastatic and fatal invasive total cancer, because the main VITAL study showed a possible reduction in fatal cancer with vitamin D supplementation and effect modification by body mass index (BMI; calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) for total cancer incidence reduction for individuals with normal BMI, but not for individuals with overweight or obesity. Secondary analyses included examination of BMI (<25, 25 to < 30, and ≥30) as effect modifiers of the observed associations.

Results: Among 25 871 randomized VITAL participants (51% female; mean [SD] age, 67.1 [7.1] years), 1617 were diagnosed with invasive cancer over a median intervention period of 5.3 years (range, 3.8-6.1 years). As previously reported, no significant differences for cancer incidence by treatment arm were observed. However, a significant reduction in advanced cancers (metastatic or fatal) was found for those randomized to vitamin D compared with placebo (226 of 12 927 assigned to vitamin D [1.7%] and 274 of 12 944 assigned to placebo [2.1%]; HR, 0.83 [95% CI, 0.69-0.99]; P = .04). When stratified by BMI, there was a significant reduction for the vitamin D arm in incident metastatic or fatal cancer among those with normal BMI (BMI<25: HR, 0.62 [95% CI, 0.45-0.86]) but not among those with overweight or obesity (BMI 25-<30: HR, 0.89 [95% CI, 0.68-1.17]; BMI≥30: HR, 1.05 [95% CI, 0.74-1.49]) (P = .03 for interaction by BMI).

Conclusions and relevance: In this randomized clinical trial, supplementation with vitamin D reduced the incidence of advanced (metastatic or fatal) cancer in the overall cohort, with the strongest risk reduction seen in individuals with normal weight.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01169259.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cholecalciferol / therapeutic use*
  • Comorbidity
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Disease Progression
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use*


  • Vitamins
  • Cholecalciferol

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01169259