Vitamin D May Help Prevent Colitis in Patients Treated with Anti-Cancer Immunotherapy

Taking vitamin D supplements may help prevent colitis, a common side effect of anti-cancer immunotherapy, according to a new study published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

“Immune checkpoint inhibitor-induced colitis can limit the use of such life-saving drugs leading to discontinuation of treatment. While it is one of the most common and severe adverse events of immunotherapy, there is a lack of understanding of the risk factors that could be modified to prevent colitis,” said Osama Rahma, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, in Boston in a press release about the study.

In this study, Dr. Rahma and his colleagues recruited 213 patients with melanoma who received immune checkpoint inhibitors between 2011 and 2017. Overall, 17% of these patients developed colitis, and 31% took vitamin D supplements prior to starting immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

The results of the study showed patients who took vitamin D had 65% lower odds of developing colitis. The researchers noted these findings were validated in a separate group of 169 patients, of whom 29% developed colitis. Moreover, in the second group, researchers observed that the use of vitamin D was associated with 54% reduced odds of developing colitis. “Our findings of a link between vitamin D intake and reduced risk for colitis could potentially impact practice if validated in future prospective studies,” said Dr. Rahma. “Vitamin D supplementation should be tested further to determine if it could be a safe, easily accessible, and cost-effective approach towards preventing immunotherapy’s gastrointestinal toxicity and extending the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment in cancer patients.”