Intravenous Vitamin C in Cancer Care Explained

The great scientist Linus Pauling is one of only four people to have won more than one Nobel Prize (and the only one to have won two unshared Nobels). He’s also the “grandfather” of using high dose vitamin C as a therapeutic tool. Pauling was doing research on the value of vitamin C and cancer as far back as the 1970s. 

Vitamin C can be a powerful tool, but it isn’t very sexy. We’ve known about it for over a century, and you can’t patent it. As a result, it doesn’t get much funding, press, or attention, despite its incredible usefulness in health care. Still, more work is done in the field every year, and the body of research continues to build.

Hot off the presses, the review article, “Vitamin C as a modulator of the Response to Cancer Therapy” offers further understanding of the benefit of vitamin C for our patients who are dealing with cancer treatments. If you want to get into the weeds, you can read all the details in the full article here. If you want a summary of what we can learn from it, read on!

How Intravenous Vitamin C Works

Vitamin C taken orally is a different treatment than vitamin C used intravenously. Oral vitamin C acts like an anti-oxidant, a molecule that helps our cells deal with damage. But given intravenously, vitamin C can reach “pharmacological doses.” At that level, vitamin C appears to become a pro-oxidant–a molecule that produces damage. In this case, that’s good news, because the damage can be specific to cancer cells. 

What Cancers are Intravenous Vitamin C Effective For? 

Happily, the growing body of evidence supports the use of vitamin C in cancer care in a number of applications–particularly in combination with conventional therapies, where it improves the effectiveness and/or reduces side effects of therapy. For example:

  • Several trials of high-dose intravenous vitamin C administration in cancer patients have led to increased quality of life, as well as improvements in physical, mental, and emotional functions, and less frequent adverse effects such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain, and appetite loss. 
  • Combining high-dose vitamin C with anticancer therapies inhibits tumor growth in models of pancreatic, liver, prostate, ovarian cancer, sarcoma, and malignant mesothelioma. 
  • Breast cancer patients, as well as metastatic pancreatic cancer patients, experienced less severe chemotherapy-induced side effects after a complementary intravenous ascorbic acid (vitamin C) treatment.
  • Importantly, authors also showed that the combination of IV vitamin C with the conventional chemotherapeutic agents carboplatin and paclitaxel inhibited ovarian cancer in mouse models and reduced chemotherapy-associated toxicity in patients with ovarian cancer. 

Currently, there are several trials in progress to add more evidence to confirm the value of IV vitamin C as complementary therapy.  

Is it Safe? 

In our clinical experience, very much so. As for research, this study, which looked at 23 trials and a total of 385 patients found that overall, vitamin C has been shown to be safe and well tolerated, both alone and in combination with chemotherapies.

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. If you or someone you know is struggling to make sense of treatment options and conflicting advice, you can have all your questions answered by Dr. Ehab Mohammed, who spent more than 20 years practicing oncology as an MD before becoming a naturopathic doctor.