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posted: 4/1/2013 5:18 AM

Intravenous vitamin C shows promise in treating pancreatic cancer

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Could the use of intravenous vitamin C be an important key in the treatment of metastatic pancreatic cancer? According to one recent medical study, the answer is yes. Patients who had a combination of intravenous vitamin C and chemotherapy did significantly better than the national average of patients just taking chemotherapy alone.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. It is a particularly difficult form of cancer to treat and, unfortunately, the incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing. Since pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed after it has metastasized, the mortality rate of pancreatic cancer is more than 80 percent. Compared to other cancers progress in the treatment of pancreatic cancer has not been robust. However, one significant advance in the treatment of pancreatic cancer was the introduction of a chemotherapy agent, gemcitabine. Another improvement was the therapy consisting of a combination chemotherapy. Unfortunately side effects for both of these therapies limits their extended use.

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This study involved nine patients and combined gemcitabine and intravenous vitamin C. It was conducted through the University of Iowa. It was a preliminary study involving only patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. The comparison group was the national average. The average survival for patients treated with gemcitabine is approximately six months. In this study, the combination of gemcitabine and intravenous vitamin C resulted in an average survival of 12 months with one patient surviving for almost 2 years.

The most famous proponent of intravenous vitamin C therapy in the treatment of cancer was two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling. Unfortunately, his research was so flawed that it may have set research into intravenous vitamin C therapy back several decades. In the end, however, Pauling may have been right. Intravenous vitamin C does have some interesting anticancer properties and very few side effects. In the 1930s and 1940s, intravenous vitamin C was used, with success, to treat a number of illnesses including polio. One interesting study published in the Southern medical journal demonstrated that intravenous vitamin therapy resulted in complete resolution of symptoms of polio in 60 children.

Why intravenous vitamin C? The reason is that the amount of vitamin C that can be given intravenously far exceeds the amount that can be taken by mouth. Studies have shown that tissue levels of vitamin C achieved by intravenous administration cannot be achieved by taking vitamin C orally.

Intravenous vitamin C seems to have some significant health benefits for burn therapy, chronic pain and cancer. Patients also have faster recoveries after surgery with intravenous vitamin C. The research for treating heart disease is less clear -- some studies show improvement while others do not.

The results of the study are not conclusive and larger clinical trials are needed. However, considering the limited effectiveness of chemotherapy for metastatic pancreatic cancer, intravenous vitamin C seems to be a promising direction for further research and clinical application.

• Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Health System. His website is www.alt-med.org.

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