Problem addressed, background and strategic significance

There are almost 42,000 new cases of bowel cancer in the UK each year and about one in every ten patients die from their cancer within five years. Our Research Group is interested in the link between low vitamin D levels and bowel cancer. We have shown that vitamin D levels fall dramatically after bowel surgery and that having low a vitamin D level is associated with worse survival after bowel cancer surgery. We also know that vitamin D tablets can boost vitamin D levels in healthy volunteers but do not know whether taking vitamin D tablets before bowel cancer surgery can boost the levels. The project aims to investigate whether oral vitamin D supplements can increase vitamin D levels before and around the time of bowel cancer surgery.

Method(s) used

We will give patients diagnosed with bowel cancer vitamin D supplements in the weeks before their surgery. We will test their blood vitamin D level several times while they are taking the tablets – whilst they are in hospital or when they are seen in the clinic so they will not have to come into hospital just for that.

Hoped for results of this research

If we can show that vitamin D supplements work in patients undergoing bowel cancer surgery, we can then go on to test whether giving cancer patients vitamin D supplements reduces deaths in the months and years following their treatment.

What this research is expected to add to the knowledge of bowel disease and what is the impact you hope to achieve for patients?

Vitamin D shows great promise as a cheap and safe supplement to improve survival from bowel cancer yet no other study has looked at vitamin D supplementation around the time of bowel cancer surgery. We hope information from this study will help us design a larger study to test whether giving vitamin D supplements can improve survival following bowel cancer surgery.