APR 01, 2017 02:04 PM PDT

Vitamin C: The Next Anti-Cancer Weapon?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Giving cancer patients a shot of vitamin C that’s 800 to 1,000 times the daily recommended dose may help to stave cancer progression at a fraction of the cost of one dose of chemotherapy.

Vitamin C has had a long stint with the medical community. In 1753, the compound was shown to ward off scurvy – a condition that was common among sailors at the time. Since then, vitamin C was purported to be effective against viruses like the common cold and the flu. Moreover, this compound has also been explored as an anticancer agent for several types of cancer, including colon, and leukemia.

In the current study, researchers at the University of Iowa reported that administering a high dose of vitamin C seems to weaken cancer progression. Their study sample included 11 patients with brain cancer, who, in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, also received IV infusions of vitamin C.

The results show little side effects from raising the patients’ vitamin C levels from 70 micromoles to a whopping 20,000 micromoles. But, importantly, survival time seemed to increase 4 to 6 months in patients with extra vitamin C.

"This paper reveals a metabolic frailty in cancer cells that is based on their own production of oxidizing agents that allows us to utilize existing redox active compounds, like vitamin C, to sensitize cancer cells to radiation [therapy] and chemotherapy,” said Garry Buettner, the study’s co-author. In short, vitamin C seems to make cancer cells more sensitive to the free radicals found in these cells.

“This is a significant example of how knowing details of potential mechanisms and the basic science of redox active compounds in cancer versus normal cells can be leveraged clinically in cancer therapy," said Douglas Spitz, a co-author of the study. "Here, we verified convincingly that increased redox active metal ions in cancer cells were responsible for this differential sensitivity of cancer versus normal cells to very high doses of vitamin C.”

"The majority of cancer patients we work with are excited to participate in clinical trials that could benefit future patient outcomes down the line. Results look promising but we are not going to know if this approach really improves therapy response until we complete these phase II trials," said Bryan Allen, the study’s lead author.

What is apparent already is the cost difference between infusions of vitamin C and a round of chemotherapy. In the current protocol for brain cancer patients, vitamin C infusions would cost around $8,000 over 9 months of infusion. This is significantly cheaper than the cost of chemotherapy for brain cancer, which varies but can be as high as $26,000 per session. Despite the cost difference, it’s worth noting that vitamin C isn’t a replacement for chemotherapy.

Additional sources: MNT, EurekAlert!

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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