A couple of recent reports provide new insights into preventing and treating colon cancer. These studies remind me of the scene in Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, where he wakes up in the future to find out that all the things he thought were bad for you are really healthy.
The first study was in the Journal of Clinical Oncology which found that people who had higher levels of circulating Vitamin D and later developed colon cancer had a better survival rate than people with lower Vitamin D levels. An accompanying editorial points out that this could be because people who exercise more are outside for longer periods of time – which gives them more sun exposure leading to higher Vitamin D levels – and that more exercise itself might provide a better survival rate. The editorial also notes that Vitamin D does not appear to promote the growth of cancers at higher concentrations like some other compounds which have been investigate for preventing cancer, such as folic acid.
The second article, (in the journal Cancer Research), describes how inactivating the cannabinoid receptors in human colon cancer cells (which had been implanted into mice) caused the cancer to grow faster. And conversely, reactivating and stimulating these receptors slowed the growth of the cancer cells and led to their death.
These basic research studies are only starting points for changing how patients are actually treated, or advising people how to lower their colon cancer risks. But like all good research, they can narrow the focus for future investigations. In the case of Vitamin D, there is an ongoing study to see if providing Vitamin D supplements to people who have had precancerous colon polyps can prevent the development of more polyps and cancer. And the cannabinoid receptor study may break new ground into treatments for colon cancer, just as more understanding of the hormone receptors in breast and prostate cancer led to new treatments for those malignancies.
Clearly, these are good scientific advancements, but I don’t think they will soon lead to doctors recommending a big glass of milk and “magic” brownies for all their patients – although more milk may becoming part of standard nutritional advice – particularly low-fat milk. [See previous posts about Vitamin D here and here.]
As the saying goes, “Good and Good for You.”