In a new study, researchers found that vitamin D influences the behavior of melanoma cells in the lab by making them less aggressive.
They discovered that vitamin D influences the behavior of a signaling pathway within melanoma cells, which slowed down their growth and stopped them from spreading to the lungs.
Although this is early research, the findings could ultimately lead to new ways to treat melanoma.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Leeds.
There are around 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, and survival has doubled in the UK in the past 40 years.
Around 300 people get diagnosed with melanoma at its latest stage in England each year when it is aggressive and difficult to treat.
Around 55% of people with the latest stage melanoma survive their disease for 1 year or more compared to nearly 100% of those diagnosed at the earliest stage.
Scientists have previously known that lower levels of vitamin D circulating in the body have been linked to worse outcomes for people with melanoma, but they haven’t fully understood the mechanisms that cause this.
The team wanted to see what processes were being regulated by vitamin D in melanoma cells, and what happens when there is a lack of a protein on the surface of the melanoma cells called a vitamin D receptor (VDR), which enables vitamin D to bind to the cell’s surface.
The researchers looked at the activity of the gene that makes VDR in 703 human melanoma tumors, and 353 human melanoma tumors that had spread from the initial site.
The activity of the VDR gene was cross-referenced with other patient characteristics, such as the thickness of their tumor and how fast their tumor grew.
They also wanted to see if the amounts of VDR in human melanoma cells were associated with genetic changes that happen when tumors become more aggressive.
They then used mice to check whether VDR levels changed cancer’s ability to spread.
The team found that human tumors with low levels of the VDR gene grew faster, and had lower activity of genes that control pathways that help the immune system fight cancer cells.
They also discovered that tumors with lower VDR levels also had a higher activity of genes linked to cancer growth and spread.
The team says although vitamin D on its own won’t treat cancer, they could take insights from the way it works to boost the effects of immunotherapy, which uses the immune system to find and attack cancer cells.
People who have been newly diagnosed with melanoma should have their vitamin D levels checked and managed accordingly.
The lead author of the study is Professor Newton-Bishop from the University of Leeds.
The study is published in Cancer Research.
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