Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to detect early on and treat effectively because many patients do not develop symptoms until they are in the advanced stages of the disease. The symptoms can sometimes be very vague, but they may include upper abdominal pain radiating through your back, changes in skin color, loss of appetite and weight loss. The causes of pancreatic cancer are not clearly understood; however there are risk factors for the disease such as chronic inflammation of the pancreases, diabetes, smoking, excessive alcohol abuse and some genetic syndromes.

A diagnosis can be made through imaging such as a CAT scans or an MRI, as well as through some endoscopic procedures that can evaluate the pancreas. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to look at the tumor itself. Traditional treatment for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Recently we've seen clinical trials with experimental gene therapies and new approaches to surgical options. However, despite medical advancements, the prognoses for pancreatic cancer patients in advanced stages is still very guarded. That is why I am very interested in a new study that investigated a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine gathered data from 107 countries, and found that those with the least amount of sunlight also had the highest rates of pancreatic cancer. Even after they took into consideration other factors that may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer like alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking, the strong correlation between cloud-cover and incidence of pancreatic cancer persisted.

Vitamin D is an essential, fat soluble vitamin that is found in certain foods and occurs naturally in the body when it is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D's function is to help us use calcium, which is an essential element of good bone health. It also helps us to balance the equilibrium between calcium and phosphorus, which is a very important element for healthy cell function. Now, through this study, we also know that a lack of vitamin D is yet another possible factor to add to the etiology of pancreatic cancer.

This finding is not terribly surprising to me. If we look at heavy drinkers, we see that in people who consistently consume alcohol for many years, tend to have low levels of vitamin D. Alcohol interferes with the body's ability to absorb vitamin D as well as the activation that is needed to convert vitamin D for proper use in the human body.

We also know that alcoholism, as well as inflammation of the pancreas due to alcohol consumption, is a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Remember, alcohol abuse affects our overall nutrition. Alcohol is empty calories, and despite the fact that pure ethanol alcohol contains 7.1 calories per gram, it may give you some energy, but it certainly is depleting you of essential nutrients. After many years of drinking, that alcohol consumption could interfere with your intestinal tract and by doing so, limit the amount of nutrients that your own intestines can get from food.

Now I know that there are a lot of studies regarding vitamin D, but I consider these studies to speak volumes about nutrition. Yes, there have been studies published showing vitamin D levels are linked to colon cancer, prostate cancer and even breast cancer, but those studies are basically showing a link rather than a direct effect.

However, I always say where there is smoke, there is fire, and especially in the field of pancreatic cancer. I do take note of this study and believe it holds much weight. If you have any of the risk factors mentioned above, it might be a good idea to pay attention to your daily intake of vitamin D. Preferably, you should begin by regulating your vitamin D consumption through a well-balanced diet, and eliminating any other factors from your life that may be preventing your digestive system from utilizing the naturally occurring vitamin D in your body.

The post Can vitamin D level increase your pancreatic cancer risk? appeared first on Womens Health AskDrManny.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.