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Dr. Patricia Limpert, St. Luke's Hospital

Vitamin D may play an important role in breast cancer prevention

Chances are you know a few things about breast cancer. That's not surprising considering more than 40,000 women in the United States die from it each year.

But what do you know about vitamin D?

Did you know that a growing body of evidence suggests an increased intake of vitamin D corresponds with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer? Likewise, researchers have found that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to a higher risk of breast cancer recurrence.

On the other hand, some studies have found no relationship between vitamin D and breast cancer.

As new research continues to shed light on the topic, you can translate your knowledge into action. Specifically, you can make sure you're taking in adequate amounts of vitamin D - which is essential in helping your body absorb calcium and maintain strong bones, regardless of its potential role in breast cancer prevention.

You can take in vitamin D through your diet, with supplements and through exposure to sunlight.

Current dietary recommendations call for daily vitamin D consumption of 200 international units (IU) for people age 50 and under, 400 IU for those ages 51 to 70 and 600 IU for those older than 70. But many experts say these levels are too low.

Sources of dietary vitamin D include fatty fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cereal and bread. You can also increase your intake through supplements.

Many women, though, meet their vitamin D needs through exposure to the sun. And it doesn't take much: If you spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun on a sunny day without sunscreen and with 40 percent of your body exposed, you may absorb 2,000 or more IU of vitamin D.

But remember that too much sun exposure can cause melanoma or another type of skin cancer. In general, you should avoid tanning and wear sunscreen when you're outdoors.

The most important step you can take is to talk with your physician to make sure you're getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and doing everything possible to prevent breast cancer.

Dr. Patricia Limpert is a breast surgeon at the Breast Care Center at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6491 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 15, 2010.