Vitamin D and Breast Cancer Prevention Research

Published on February 8, 2011

Updated on February 13, 2018

This month, the Prevent Cancer Foundation is proud to highlight the work of Dr. Katherine Crew, Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Columbia University. Dr. Crew received a two-year grant from the Foundation in the spring of 2007. Her research focuses on the biological effects of vitamin D in premenopausal women at high risk for breast cancer development.

We asked Dr. Crew the following questions about her research and the importance of funding cancer prevention and early detection research.

What led you to the field of breast cancer prevention research?
As a practicing medical oncologist, I witness first-hand what women have to face after a breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve always had a strong interest in women’s health and health promotion. I think raising awareness about breast cancer risk and options for screening and prevention are critical.

Tell us about your research examining the effects of vitamin D on breast cancer risk and survival.
We and other investigators have reported an association between vitamin D deficiency and increased breast cancer risk. However, uncertainty remains about whether changing a woman’s vitamin D status through supplementation can alter her breast cancer risk. We are conducting a pilot study to evaluate the safety of a 1-year intervention of high-dose vitamin D supplementation in premenopausal women at high risk for breast cancer development. We are also examining the effects of vitamin D on intermediate markers that correlate with breast cancer risk, such as mammographic density, breast tissue and blood-based biomarkers.

What impact could your findings have on preventing other cancers beyond breast cancer?
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of other cancers, including colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. Data from this study may help to uncover potential mechanisms of action of vitamin D for cancer prevention.

How has receiving a Prevent Cancer Foundation grant impacted your research on breast cancer?
This study will provide preliminary data for a larger randomized controlled trial of vitamin D for breast cancer prevention that will be opening at multiple sites later this year. Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation was instrumental for me to create a good clinical model for testing promising agents for breast cancer prevention.

Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?
Cancer research has lagged behind cardiovascular disease in terms of finding effective interventions for prevention. As a result, mortality from cancer now exceeds cardiovascular disease in the U.S. Therefore, investing more research funding in cancer prevention is critical from a public health standpoint. 

For more information about the Foundation’s Research Grants and Fellowships Program, click here.


As a 7 yr. survivor,I had been on a vitamin d3 regimen.
After talking to a pharmacist about this, his contention was that there were not enough studies to support the large doses recommendeed.
He felt that d3 had steriodal properties and in the long run could cause worse issues.
I had already had disasterous results from HRT, so I am disinclined to persue a d3 regimen


Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts, Michelle. Some studies suggest that the risk of developing some types of cancer is lower for people who have higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies. Some of the questions that need answering are: Is vitamin D the reason for this, or might it be something else? If vitamin D is found to be the reason, does too-little of it raise a person’s risk of some cancers? And might taking more vitamin D than the recommended daily value (as supplement or as food) lower this risk? If so, for whom? The Prevent Cancer Foundation is committed to funding research that will answer these questions.


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