A new study finds that vitamin D deficiency has a role to play in deciding the length of remaining life of a leukemia patient.

Patients with vitamin D deficiency are twice more likely to die in certain type of leukemia because the ailment progresses faster than those with adequate vitamin D levels.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and the University of Iowa have also found that increasing vitamin D levels in patients was linked to longer life span. Leukemia (chronic lymphocytic leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells and mainly affects adults. Even though the disease is often diagnosed at an early stage, doctors often wait for symptoms to show in order to start chemotherapy, said study author and hematologist Dr. Tait Shanafelt.

“This watch-and-wait approach is difficult for patients because they feel there is nothing they can do to help themselves.” Shanafelt said. “It appears vitamin D levels may be a modifiable risk factor for leukemia progression. It is simple for patients to have their vitamin D levels checked by their physicians with a blood test. And if they are deficient, vitamin D supplements are widely available and have minimal side effects.”

The study assessed 390 patients and 30 percent of them had insufficient vitamin D levels at the time of diagnosis. Three years later, the study found patients with low vitamin D levels were 66 percent more likely to suffer worsening condition of the disease and required chemotherapy. "This tells us that vitamin D insufficiency may be the first potentially modifiable risk factor associated with prognosis in newly diagnosed CLL," Shanafelt said.