Transcript: Intravenous Vitamin C for Terminal Cancer Patients
In 1975, a remarkable case was reported of a 42-year old man suffering from a malignant form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who experienced a dramatic regression of the cancer after being given large doses of vitamin C intravenously. He seemed cured; so, they stopped the vitamin C, and the cancer came surging back. So, they restarted the vitamin C, apparently inducing a second complete remission. Now, sometimes, cancer does just spontaneously regress—it’s rare, but not unheard of. So, one could argue that the first remission was spontaneous, and it was just a coincidence that it happened when they started the vitamin C, but given the trajectory the cancer was on, followed by the rapid remission, followed by the relapse when the vitamin C was stopped, followed by a second remission once restarted does strongly suggest the vitamin C had something to do with it.
Now, multiple spontaneous regressions do exist. There was a recent case, for example, of a woman with cervical cancer, apparently cured with radiation and chemo, but when the cancer came back, she refused further treatment; yet, the tumors disappeared on their own, and then came back, and then disappeared, then came back, and then disappeared, then came back, and then disappeared for a fourth spontaneous remission, and that was with no apparent treatment at all. So, it’s possible this vitamin C case is just a crazy coincidence fluke, and the vitamin C didn’t help at all. You never know until you put it to the test.
So, these researchers enlisted the help of Linus Pauling, considered the greatest chemist of the 20th century, who was known to be interested in vitamin C. If he couldn’t get funding, nobody could get funding, and he couldn’t get funding. They went to the National Cancer Institute with promising data on the first 40 cancer patients they treated with vitamin C and asked that they carry out a randomized double blind trial, meaning take a group of incurable cancer patients for which we have nothing more to offer, randomly split them up into two groups and infuse one group with vitamin C and the other group with something just saline, basically water, and see who lives longest. Neither the patients nor the doctors would know who got which, to eliminate bias and placebo effects. And they went back year after year after year asking for grants to study it themselves if the National Cancer Institute wasn’t going to do it , and they got rejected year, after year, after year. So, they scraped up whatever funds they could find and did their best with what they had and published their famous findings in 1976.
They didn’t have a controlled trial, but by that point, they had treated a hundred terminal cancer patients with vitamin C. So, they compared their progress to that of a thousand similar patients who didn’t get vitamin C. For each patient treated with vitamin C, they found ten patients about the same age with the same kind of cancer that had been treated at the same hospital but without the vitamin C infusions. This is what they found. Let’s look at breast cancer, for example. Here’s the survival curve for terminal breast cancer—remember these were all terminal cancer patients. As you can see, in the control group, within 100 days, more than 80% of the women were dead, but in the vitamin C group, half were still alive nearly a year later. They had women with terminal breast cancer still alive 2,270 days later and still counting.
The control groups for all the different cancers did predictably bad, with the vast majority dead within one to two hundred days, while the vitamin C treated patients appeared to do substantially better. All in all, the average survival time was four times as great for the vitamin C subjects: more than 200 days compared to only 50 days for the controls. The results, they conclude, clearly indicate that this simple and safe form of medication is of definite value in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer. So what happened?
Critics understandably attacked the study for using after-the-fact controls. You could see how this could introduce bias. If you consciously or unconsciously chose control group patients who were sicker than your treatment group patients, they would die sooner than your patients, but it would have nothing to do with the treatment; the control group folks just started out in a worse place. And, indeed, there’s evidence that is what happened—a full 20% of the control group died within a few days after being declared terminal compared to none in the treatment group, which really does sound fishy. But the trial was successful in finally convincing the National Cancer Institute to fund randomized controlled trials performed by the prestigious Mayo Clinic, no less. What did they find? We’ll find out, next.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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