Vitamin C and Cancer Back in the News

Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen Pauling and Linus Pauling, Glasgow, Scotland, 1976

Ewan Cameron, Ava Helen Pauling and Linus Pauling, Glasgow, Scotland, 1976.

The National Institutes of Health news release of Monday August 4th, titled “Vitamin C Injections Slow Tumor Growth,” (which, a day later, was the subject of this article in the Washington Post) is of particular interest to those familiar with the life and work of Linus Pauling.

Though he made important contributions to numerous disciplines of scientific study throughout the course of his seventy-plus year career, Pauling is probably most popularly known as “The vitamin C guy,” in large part due to his best-selling book Vitamin C and the Common Cold, published in 1970.  Suffice it to say, Pauling was a vitamin C enthusiast; and one does not have to look very hard to uncover another of Pauling’s ascorbic acid-related topics of interest — that of the potential use of vitamin C in the treatment of various forms of cancer.

In 1976 Pauling and a colleague, a Scottish physician by the name of Ewan Cameron, published a paper titled “Supplemental Ascorbate in the Supportive Treatment of Cancer: Prolongation of Survival Times in Terminal Human Cancer.” [1976p.16] The co-authors used this paper to outline what they felt were promising results from a clinical trial of one-hundred patients suffering from terminal cancers — namely that ascorbic acid treatments, when used in conjunction with more conventional cancer treatments, seemed to lead to longer survival times.

As it turned out, this paper was the opening salvo of a long-running and often-contentious period of research for Pauling and Cameron.  Convinced of the validity of their position, the duo engaged in a number of further studies, while at the same time confronting — sometime angrily — a steady stream of criticism directed their way from multiple segments of the scientific and medical establishment.  Of particular note was a long-running dispute between Pauling and Charles Moertel of the Mayo Clinic, whose own double-blind studies concluded that “no significant difference in symptomatic improvement” was evident between cancer patients treated with a placebo versus those recieving ascorbic acid therapy. (See Boxes 11.044 and 11.045 of the Pauling Science section)

In 1979, the same year as Moertel’s study, Pauling and Cameron published a book titled Cancer and Vitamin C, in which they detailed their theories on the nature of cancer and the role that vitamin C might play in helping to treat the disease.  Though the co-authors would continue to write and lecture widely on the subject throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, (Cameron died in 1991; Pauling in 1994) the 1979 book is perhaps the most accessible encapsulation of Pauling and Cameron’s thinking on the subject.

For those who might be interested in further tracing Pauling’s thoughts on this highly-controversial subject, the digitized Pauling notebooks offer a great deal of immediately-accessible content — see the listings under “Cancer” on this page.  Of course there is plenty more to be found in the physical collection itself, most notably in Science section 11, and in Pauling’s later article manuscripts and speeches.  A huge amount of content related to the 1979 Cancer and Vitamin C book is also available, as are several boxes of material created for a proposed but never-published follow-up, which was to have been penned with Abram Hoffer and was given the working title How to Control Cancer with Vitamins.

Readers should also note that, in addition to the Pauling archive, the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections is likewise home to the Ewan Cameron Papers, a 57-linear foot collection that is, in the main, devoted to Cameron’s contributions to a line of research now being continued by scientists at the NIH.

2 Responses

  1. […] As we’ve noted before on the PaulingBlog, the possibility that ascorbic acid might be a useful tool in the fight against cancer was a topic of intense interest to Linus Pauling and a handful of his colleagues (Ewan Cameron and Irwin Stone, among others) over the last two decades of his life.  Pauling’s devotion to the subject, and often-fiery defenses of his beliefs, attracted no small amount of criticism from the scientific and medical mainstream.  More than anything else, Pauling’s vitamin C and cancer research is the source of the “Pauling as quack” notions still prevalent in certain circles. […]

  2. […] on the potential for treating cancer with large amounts of ascorbic acid. (A bit more background is here and […]

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