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A new study for which results were profiled in the March 30 edition of the journal Cancer Cell demonstrates that high doses of vitamin C were well-tolerated in lung and brain cancer patient trials, which aimed to show that adding the vitamin to chemotherapy and radiation regimens may improve outcome for patients.

The study was penned by researchers from the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and reported “promising results” from a Phase 1 trial involving high-dose vitamin C therapy in patients with the brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and preliminary findings from a Phase 2 trial in Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“These two diseases really haven’t had a significant improvement in outcomes for two or three decades,” says Bryan Allen, UI assistant professor of radiation oncology and an author on the study. “This is a well-tolerated, very cost-effective treatment, and it may significantly improve patient outcomes. This could potentially change the landscape of how these diseases are treated, especially across the world, where finances can be limited for these types of cancer treatments.”

The idea of using Vitamin C to boost the efficacy of standard cancer treatments is not new. As a matter of fact, researchers have been studying it for about 40 years. At very high concentrations, the vitamin is known to kill cancer cells but spare healthy cells.

Unfortunately, however, just consuming large amounts of Vitamin C doesn’t work because the body limits the amount that enters the bloodstream.

However, with intravenous delivery, scientists can bypass that stop sign. In the clinical trials, researchers were able to raise the concentration of vitamin C in a patient’s blood to 20,000 micromolar.

The normal blood level for vitamin C in a healthy adult is about 70 micromolar, the authors of the study explain.

The study synopsis explains how the vitamin works to conquer cancer cells:

The findings indicate that a glitch in cancer cell metabolism disrupts iron levels in the tumor cells. The excess free iron further reacts with the high levels of vitamin C, generating hydrogen peroxide and other free radicals (reactive oxygen molecules) that can damage DNA, causing cell death directly or making the tumor cells more sensitive to damage from radiation and chemotherapy. This toxic effect is not seen in healthy cells where normal metabolism keeps the levels of hydrogen peroxide and free iron under control.

Author Douglas Spitz called the results “exciting and surprising” and noted that there were no serious side effects for the patients involved in the study. In addition, if this proves successful, it’s important to note that adding Vitamin C infusions to standard treatments is relatively inexpensive, adding about $8000 to a 9-month treatment protocol.

That’s less than the cost of one dose of most chemotherapy or immunotherapy drugs, the authors add.

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