Cancer and Vitamin C Redux

Group photo of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine staff, 1989.  Ewan Cameron stands adjacent to Linus Pauling's left shoulder.

Group photo of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine staff, 1989. Ewan Cameron stands adjacent to Linus Pauling

The conversation concerning the possible use of vitamin C in the treatment of cancer continues to gather momentum. 

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.

With Pauling’s death in 1994, the push for rigorous study of the vitamin C and cancer question steadily dissipated.  In recent time however, thanks in large part to new findings published by the National Institutes of Health, the possibilities suggested by Pauling, Cameron, Stone and others are now re-entering the scientific discourse.  As reported yesterday in Cancer Monthly, a new commentary written by Dr. Balz Frei and Stephen Lawson of the Linus Pauling Institute, and published in the August 12, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, (free extract available here) lends further credence to the preliminary results reported in early August by the NIH.  Quoting from Cancer Monthly

“[Pauling and Cameron’s] research was intriguing enough that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched two subsequent studies on the subject at the Mayo Clinic.  However, when those studies failed to show that vitamin C increased survival in terminal cancer patients, interest in the antioxidant as an anticancer therapy began to wane….Where the NCI studies were likely missing the mark was by giving vitamin C orally in relatively small doses, say the commentary authors….’We know that IV vitamin C produces levels in blood that are many times greater than those achieved with oral supplementation, and these very high concentrations may be necessary to kill cancer cells,’ says Lawson.”

In the spirit of lending added historical perspective to this evolving topic, the PaulingBlog is pleased to provide exclusive access to Linus Pauling’s first complete speech typescript on the subject at hand.  Below the fold is the entirety of a fourteen-page talk titled “Ascorbic Acid and Cancer,” delivered by Pauling to the California Orthomolecular Medical Society at a meeting in San Francisco on February 14, 1976. While this typescript does not represent the first presentation that Pauling gave on the topic (the earliest talks date back to at least November 1971), the content published below does represent the oldest complete vitamin C and cancer speech typescript held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. Continue reading


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.