Can Vitamin C kill cancer? UIHC seeking answer. – Iowa City Press Citizen
Research at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is reintroducing a once controversial idea: using high doses of Vitamin C to treat cancer.
Doctors and scientists at UIHC want to find out if they can fight cancer by injecting patients with large amounts of Vitamin C while also using traditional cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, said Joseph Cullen, chief of surgical service at the UI College of Medicine.
Cullen said UIHC researchers started preclinical trials in 2008, testing the Vitamin C treatment on cancer cells and mice. During these trials, researchers successfully slowed tumors’ growth, he said.
Cullen said high-dose Vitamin C, which is inexpensive to administer, seems to work by creating hydrogen peroxide that kills cancer cells without harming other cells.
“We were killing all the cancer cells,” he said.
Phase one trials currently underway are focused on whether intravenous, high-dose Vitamin C is safe and well-tolerated in human patients.
Trials so far have shown the treatment is safe and tolerable for patients with pancreatic cancer. Researchers also are testing its safety in patients with cancers of the brain and lungs, Cullen said.
He said while UIHC has not yet tested whether Vitamin C can kill tumors in human patients, initial research shows the treatment may have promise.
National Institutes of Health researcher Mark Levine also has contributed to the research, which focuses on cancers of the pancreas, brain, head, neck and lungs.
Researchers hope to test the treatment’s efficacy in humans during a second phase of research in late 2015 or early 2016. They are seeking a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fund research costs primarily from phase two.
Doctors and researchers also would need approval from the UI’s Institutional Review Board to move forward with the second phase.
Grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Healthcare System have funded phase one and preclinical trials.
The idea of using Vitamin C to kill cancer gained popularity in the late 1970s.
Scientists Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling studied using a mix of orally-ingested and intravenous Vitamin C against cancer and found the method showed promise.
However, a Mayo Clinic study in the early ’80s contradicted these findings, indicating oral Vitamin C was ineffective against cancer.
Cullen said UIHC researchers could face challenges combatting the idea that the Vitamin C treatment doesn’t work.
He said the UIHC study is different from the Mayo Clinic study because it focuses on intravenous Vitamin C, a method that allows doctors to administer the nutrient at much higher and more effective levels than with oral ingestion.
“That’s what kills the cancer cells,” Cullen said.
Hamed Tewfik, an oncologist at the Iowa City Cancer Treatment Center, said he contributed to studies in 1982 involving mice that showed high doses of oral Vitamin C were effective at slowing tumor growth and enhancing cancer drugs.
Tewfik said scientists have been exploring Vitamin C as a cancer treatment since the 1940s. He said although the idea lost momentum after the Mayo Clinic study in the 1980s, it’s currently regaining steam.
“Scientists and physicians are paying more attention to Vitamin C,” he said.
Tewfik said he believes Vitamin C can be an effective treatment, alongside traditional methods, for some patients with cancer.
Information on the National Cancer Institute’s website reads that many studies have been done on whether Vitamin C can stop the growth of isolated cancer cells and cancer in animals, and that some but not all were effective.
Studies of Vitamin C along with cancer drugs in humans have shown mixed results, including one that led to serious side effects and that worsened the disease for patients with certain types of melanoma, leukemia and colorectal cancer, the website reads.
Information on an American Cancer Society web page, last updated in 2013, reads that recent studies have not shown supplemental Vitamin C is effective in treating or preventing cancer, and that more research is needed.
Sources with information about Vitamin C treatments could not be reached at the American Cancer Society or at the American Association for Cancer Research.
Frank O’Meara of Lone Tree, a participant in phase one of the UIHC study, said he’s hopeful about research into Vitamin C as a treatment.
O’Meara, 46, was diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2014.
For the past nearly nine months, he has been visiting UIHC three times a week and, lately, twice a week for treatments including Vitamin C. There, nurses hook him up to an IV connected to a large bag of Vitamin C and saline.
O’Meara said he’s experienced few side effects, and that he attributes side effects he has noticed — coldness and a need to urinate more often — to the Vitamin C’s fluid state.
O’Meara, an information technology specialist for the VA Healthcare System, said he joined the study because he wants to improve his own outcome while potentially helping others with cancer, which he called the “dreaded disease of our time.”
“Realistically, all that was required of me was to be here and sit and wait for the IV to drip,” O’Meara said.
O’Meara, who will complete Vitamin C treatments this month, said his MRI results have shown no signs of new tumor growth after surgeons removed a tumor from his brain on August 1.
Bryan Allen, a UIHC radiation oncologist and physician scientist, said O’Meara is among a group of 10 other patients with brain cancer receiving Vitamin C, radiation and temazolomide as part of the study.
He said other patients in the same trial also have reported few side effects.
“I think it’s going very well,” Allen said.
Susan Wells, a study participant and a UIHC nurse, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer roughly a year ago.
She said she began receiving chemotherapy shortly thereafter and later joined one of UIHC’s trials among 4 other people receiving high-dose Vitamin C and radiation.
Wells, 66, an Iowa City resident, said while receiving both treatments and chemotherapy, she experienced some nausea and dry mouth. Otherwise, she said the treatment went well.
Wells said her most recent CT scan suggested she’s cancer-free. She said while she can’t prove Vitamin C helped to kill her cancer, she feels chemotherapy, radiation and Vitamin C contributed to her improvement.
“In my own head, I think it was a combination of those three things,” she said.
Wells said she chose to participate in the study because she didn’t see a downside, and that she’s hopeful about the Vitamin C treatment and her own future.
“I’ll do anything that I can to fight cancer,” Wells said.