Vitamin D supplements may reduce cancer death risk

Hurley IM residents’ meta-analysis findings gain international audience

A Hurley Internal Medicine resident research team presented findings from a meta-analysis of published studies at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago on June 3, 2019. Their analysis suggested that 3 years of Vitamin D supplements in those who eventually develop cancer may significantly reduce their risk of death from cancer, compared to those who took a placebo.

Their presentation was among several that gained international attention, as The Telegraph (United Kingdom newspaper) and others widely reported the researchers’ findings and interviewed some of the authors.

“This is the first time I have had such an experience,” said coauthor Tarek Haykal MD, a second-year resident in Hurley’s Internal Medicine Residency Training Program, who fielded many media phone calls and email inquiries. Both Haykal and first author Varun Samji MD - also a second-year resident - were at the ASCO conference for separate presentations at the time of the media inquiries.

“We are very happy that our research is catching international recognition,” said Haykal.

Samji also took a few media calls and said he was especially glad that research in general at Hurley was recognized because his residency training program - Internal Medicine - is prolific in research, thanks to a robust research curriculum and research mentorship.

The 10-person research team on this Hurley study used PRISMA-P* methodology to review randomized controlled trials where Vitamin D supplementation for at least 3 years was compared to placebo for the prevention of any type of disease and where cancer mortality was reported. After an exhaustive search of published studies in Medline and other databases, they ended up with 10 studies that fit their criteria, with 79,055 total patients (mean age: 68 years; 78% female) and a minimum follow-up period of 4 years.

Their findings: Vitamin D supplementation was associated with a significant reduction of cancer-related death compared to placebo in patients who later developed cancer. Vitamin D supplementation was NOT associated with a significant reduction in getting cancer.

These findings - combined with other well-known health benefits of Vitamin D supplements - suggest that all people - not just those with cancer - would benefit from Vitamin D supplementation, greater sun exposure, and/or greater intake of food that is high in Vitamin D, said Haykal. However, for those in northern climates such as Michigan, food and sun - especially in winter - won’t provide enough Vitamin D for most people, so supplements may be necessary.

Haykal and Samji plan to continue to work on research projects during their third and final year of their residency because it’s rewarding in many ways, they said.

From the group research projects, Haykal said, “I learned that teamwork is always important to conduct any project and to see it through from start to finish. I am extremely blessed to have had a great group of residents, mentors, and staff who supported our work.”

Samji said that such a large project was easier to complete as a group compared to working alone because the many contributors made the overall workload more manageable.

First ASCO Poster

The complete list of authors - in authorship order - appears below, with their Hurley roles. All of the resident physicians are in Hurley’s Internal Medicine Residency Program.

  1. Varun Samji MD, second-year resident
  2. Tarek Haykal MD, second-year resident
  3. Yazan Zayed MD, second-year resident
  4. Inderdeep Gakhal MD, first-year resident
  5. Vijaysai Veerapaneni MD, first-year resident
  6. Michele Obeid MD, first-year resident
  7. Babikir Kheiri MD, third-year resident
  8. Sunil Badami MD, third-year resident
  9. Ghassan Bachuwa MD MHSS MS, director of Hurley’s Internal Medicine Residency Training Program
  10. Rizwan Danish MD, an oncologist at the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute and subjection chair for Hematology/Oncology at Hurley Medical Center

The abstract for the ASCO presentation may be found in the May 20, 2019, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The group also shared their findings with a poster presentation at the May 10, 2019, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Flint Area Medical Education Community Research Forum in Flint, Mich.

Second ASCO Poster

Haykal, Samji and coauthors also presented a second ASCO poster about another meta-analysis, this time of controlled trials related to aspirin and cancer. It found that aspirin has no role as a primary prevention for cancer, but it increases the risk of bleeding. That ASCO abstract may be found in the May 20, 2019, issue of the Joural of Clinical Oncology.

Contributors to the second ASCO poster - in authorship order - appear below, with their Hurley roles. Unless otherwise noted, all resident physicians are in Hurley’s Internal Medicine Residency Program.

  1. Tarek Haykal MD, second-year resident
  2. Mahmoud Barbarawi MD, second-year resident
  3. Yazan Zayed MD, second-year resident
  4. Babikir Kheiri MD, third-year resident
  5. Anitha Yelangi MD, second-year resident
  6. Harsukh Dhillon MD, first-year resident
  7. Sowmya Goranta MD, first-year resident
  8. Adam Chahine MD, first-year Transitional Year resident
  9. Varun Samji MD, second-year resident
  10. Ghassan Bachuwa MD MHSS MS, director of Hurley’s Internal Medicine Residency Training Program
  11. Khalil Katato MD, an oncologist at the Genesys-Hurley Cancer Institute

*Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Protocols Statement 2015.

Posted by: Julie Campe