Taking vitamin D supplements may help prevent a potentially serious adverse effect (AEs) of immune checkpoint inhibitors, according to a study published in Cancer

Immune checkpoint inhibitors help the immune system identify and fight cancer cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors can be highly effective and can help patients lead prolonged lives, according to the study authors; however, they can also cause AEs, such as colitis. This can lead to the limited use of life-saving drugs. 

The study included 213 patients with melanoma who received checkpoint inhibitors between 2011 and 2017, of whom 17% developed colitis. Thirty one percent of patients in the study took vitamin D supplements before starting treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors, according to the press release. 

The study authors found that patients who took vitamin D had a 65% lower chance of developing colitis. The findings of the study were validated in another group of 169 patients, of whom 29% developed colitis. The use of vitamin D in that group was associated with the 54% decrease in chance of developing colitis, according to the study.  

"Our findings of a link between vitamin D intake and reduced risk for colitis could potentially impact practice if validated in future prospective studies…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,” study author Osama Rahma, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, said in the press release. 

Vitamin D supplements were found to significantly reduce the chance of colitis, which suggests they may help reduce the AEs of immune checkpoint inhibitors; however, more research is still needed, the study authors concluded. 

Reference:
Vitamin D may help prevent a common side effect of anti-cancer immunotherapy (Press release) Cambridge, Mass. June 22, 2020, ScienceDaily, Accessed July 24, 2020