Men whose blood calcium levels fall at the high end of the normal range are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to develop fatal prostate cancer as men with lower blood calcium levels, according to a recent study. If confirmed in other studies, the findings could have important implications for prostate cancer prevention and treatment.
Researchers analyzed health records of 2,814 men in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the NHANES Epidemiologic Follow-up Study for whom baseline blood calcium measurements were available. At the time of the initial blood collection, between 1971 and 1975, the men ranged in age from 24 to 77. After an average of nearly 10 years of follow-up, there were 85 total cases of prostate cancer, including 25 fatal cases.
When researchers correlated these cases according to blood calcium levels, they found that the men with a blood calcium level in the highest third were about 2.7 times more likely to die of prostate cancer than those with blood calcium levels in the lowest and middle thirds. The findings held true even after the researchers took family history, age, weight, and race into account. There was no connection between blood calcium levels and prostate cancer in general.
Blood calcium levels have little to do with dietary calcium, the amount consumed through food. A person’s genetics, not how much milk and cheese he eats, mainly determines blood calcium levels. If the findings can be validated in other studies, physicians might one day look at blood calcium to determine which patients need more frequent screening or aggressive therapy.
SOURCE: Skinner HG, Schwartz GG. Serum Calcium and Incident and Fatal Prostate Cancer in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2008;17:2302–05. PMID: 18768497.
Originally published October 2009; last reviewed February 24, 2011.