Intravenous Vitamin C Shows Promise in Pancreatic Cancer Treatments, Study Shows

By Jeffrey Field
December 11, 2017

Vitamin C and chemotherapyIntravenous vitamin C shows promise in treating pancreatic cancer and does not interfere with the common chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, according to new research from Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System and The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

The study published at could lead to new approaches for treating one of the most aggressive and lethal forms of cancer.

Jeanne Drisko, MD, and Qi Chen, PhD, wanted to know how high doses of intravenous ascorbate (vitamin C) affect both cancer cells and gemcitabine, a common drug in chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.

Normal cells in the body tolerate vitamin C, but cancer cells don't. That's because supra-nutritional high concentrations of vitamin C produce hydrogen peroxide. This peroxide slows the growth of tumors without causing other harmful effects.

"It specifically kills cancer cells, but spares normal cells," Dr. Chen says.

In addition to attacking cells, the reaction also changes a cancer cell's skeleton and microenvironment, limiting its mobility and making it harder for the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Dr. Drisko says the other part of the study was to see whether vitamin C infusions would disrupt the chemotherapy treatment.

"Oncologists often say, 'You can't give vitamin C with my chemo because you're going to reduce the effectiveness of the chemo,'" Drisko says. "In this trial, we formally collected the blood and looked at not only the amount of gemcitabine, but the breakdown – the metabolites of the drug – to see if there was a change without vitamin C and with it. And there wasn't."

Similar research underway at the University of Iowa is showing similar results involving radiation treatment.

Dr. Chen says the study showed that vitamin C prolonged the lives of patients undergoing chemotherapy.

"It's a small trial, but we have progressed the survival to 15 months," she says. "With the best treatment now, it's 8.5 months with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

She said a patient with stage III pancreatic cancer who underwent vitamin C infusions and gemcitabine saw her tumor stabilize and shrink so much that she became eligible for surgery.

Oral vitamin C supplements – even massive amounts of them – are not a practical alternative to intravenous delivery, where too much can get lost due to gut absorption and excretion.

Dr. Drisko says this study focused on pancreatic cancer – and previous work focused on ovarian cancer – because those cancers respond poorly to conventional treatment and have high mortality rates. She says what she's seen in her clinic and heard from other colleagues suggests intravenous vitamin C might be helpful treating other types of cancer.

Dr. Drisko plans additional research, with a larger phase II ovarian cancer study in her sights. She and Dr. Chen wan to learn more about which types of patients would be ideal candidates for this treatment.

Dr, Drisko and Dr. Chen express their appreciation for the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, which provided funding for the study, the University of Kansas Cancer Center for providing a pilot grant, and for the pharmaceutical company Mylan, which donated vitamin C. Stephen Williamson, MD, and his colleagues at The University of Kansas Cancer Center also played key roles in this study.

"It's a small trial," Dr. Chen says. "We can't draw the conclusion that this is definitive, but at least it's very promising."

The University of Kansas Health System Integrative Medicine offers vitamin C infusions in our clinic. If you'd like to learn more about how this therapy works, call 913-588-6208 to make an appointment with a member of our team.

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