Cancer and Vitamin C: A Review of the Book

The Camerons and the Paulings in Scotland, 1974

[Part 5 of 9]

Cancer and Vitamin C, by Ewan Cameron and Linus Pauling, was first published in 1979. A second edition was released in 1993, and a third came out in 2018. While the later editions included new ancillary materials, the primary text of the book mostly remained unchanged. In it, Pauling and Cameron fundamentally sought to make the case that vitamin C therapy is an effective means of treating cancer; indeed, even more effective, in some cases, than “traditional” therapeutics. In building these claims, the book outlines the ways in which vitamin C helps to fight cancer on both theoretical and metabolic bases, and concludes with specific examples of therapeutic successes.

Even though the book was written by a Nobel laureate (Pauling) and a leading cancer physician (Cameron), the text is approachable for a general readership. The book’s short chapters help maintain a quick pace while allowing for discussion of many topics without getting overly detailed. But in part because of this structure, the authors do not fully explore the connection between vitamin C and cancer until about halfway into their text. The initial chapters are instead devoted to establishing a foundational understanding of cancer and disease, thus equipping the reader to more fully appreciate how vitamin C might related to cancer. Once the connection is made however, the book approaches vitamin C and cancer from so many different angles that it is hard to finish without at least considering the value of a prophylactic vitamin C supplement.

The book begins with an overview of cancer and carcinogens, notably including heat. In their text, Pauling and Cameron make reference to higher incidences of cancer among people who use coals to heat their body, as was practiced in India and elsewhere. Pauling and Cameron believed that the heat was somehow changing individuals’ DNA, and that this was contributing to the higher cancer incidence. This assessment, of course, was informed by Pauling’s understanding of how other carcinogens, such as radiation, caused cancers and birth defects in those exposed. The notion that cancer could be the result of DNA changes was a novel idea at the time of publication, and the understanding that chromosomal changes could occur as a result of radioactive carcinogens was also relatively new. Nonetheless, Pauling and Cameron suggested that many incidents of cancer could be a result of changes to or mutations in DNA.

From there, the authors focused on a discussion of the various types of cancer, classifying each by the area of the body that is affected. Accordingly, the book contains unique discussions of cancers of the skin, stomach, esophagus, larynx, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, bladder, and lung. Cancers of the sexual organs (testicular, ovarian, prostate, uterine and breast) were given particular attention because, according to Pauling and Cameron, hormones usually affected these in particular ways that played a key role in the effectiveness of vitamin C treatment. Cancers of the lymphatic system, sarcomas (tumors of the bone), tumors of the brain, tumors of the blood, and tumors in infants were also explored in the book.    

Following this discussion, Pauling and Cameron shifted their focus to the common kinds of cancer treatments that one might expect to receive, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormones, and immunotherapy. Once again, little attention was paid to vitamin C in these early chapters. Instead, the authors chose to detail more conventional treatment options as a means to developing a common understanding with the reader.

One interesting exception to this approach was the duo’s discussion of chemotherapy. As will be examined in later posts, independent researchers found that patients given vitamin C fared no better than their counterparts who were not given vitamin C. Pauling and Cameron protested these results, in part because the patients in the independent study had received chemotherapy followed by vitamin C treatment. Pauling and Cameron argued that chemotherapy works by destroying the immune system and vitamin C works by strengthening it. Logically then, vitamin C therapy would be most effective in instances where patients have not received chemotherapy.

After setting this groundwork, Pauling and Cameron then began to explain why vitamin C was an ideal substance to treat cancer. The specifics of their argument are detailed in our previous posts, but in general, vitamin C was believed to be effective against cancer because of its ability to enhance the immune system’s natural defenses; essentially it boosted the fighting power of the immune system. Pauling and Cameron drew these conclusions through human trials, literature reviews, and anecdotal evidence, and ultimately argued that vitamin C should be used in conjunction with nearly every cancer patient’s treatment protocol, and sometimes even in lieu of orthodox treatment altogether.

Pauling and Cameron concluded the book with a discussion of other people’s research; specific examples of people who had been treated with vitamin C; and analysis of clinical trial results. Each of the editions winds up with a series of appendices relaying, for example, the estimated number cancer deaths in the United States at the time of publication; information about various anti-cancer drugs and their chemical method of action; and, later on, the details of an important symposium on vitamin C and cancer, which we will review in a later post.

Cancer and Vitamin C is ambitious and full of complicated scientific and medical concepts that the authors explain in terms understandable to most readers. Amidst it all, the authors’ message is clear throughout the book: vitamin C can help to cure cancer and should be used. While the first part of the volume initially appears to be a bit off topic, readers are rewarded later with a rich connection made between the nature of cancer and the value of vitamin C. And whether or not the reader accepts the book’s central thesis, its thorough explanation of cancer as a disease and of terms associated with cancer will prove beneficial to many.

Controversial from the moment that it was published, Cancer and Vitamin C remains compelling today, a worthwhile investment for skeptics and believers alike. And for those interested in Linus Pauling as an individual, the book provides valuable insight into how his ceaselessly curious scientific mind could take an issue as perplexing as cancer and approach it in a classic Pauling way: different from his peers and with a keen sense of intuition.

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