Robert writes articles about emerging medical discoveries with a focus on the health benefits of natural remedies and ingredients.
This article discusses the substances known as DCA and its potential use as a cancer treatment.
What is DCA?
DCA is the more pronounceable abbreviation of a chemical substance known as Sodium Dichloroacetate (DCA). It is an analogue of acetic acid, which means that it has a structure similar to acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component in vinegar and is what gives vinegar its distinctive bitter taste.
DCA is not made from vingear, but it has a chemical similarity to acetic acid, and hence belongs to the same chemical family, so to speak.
Many researchers believe that DCA may kill cancer. DCA has been shown to have some effects on the metabolism of cells and has been studied as a treatment for congenital lactic acidosis, as well as cancer. This supposed cure for cancer has gained a great deal of buzz on the internet and even on national television programs, having been touted as a potential cancer cure. DCA has undergone some scientific testing, with some promising results, and this has led to many cancer patients trying DCA as an alternative cancer treatment.
Can DCA Cure Cancer?
It has long been known that cancer cells are different from normal cells in many ways. One of the significant differences between cancer and healthy cells is that the cancer cells metabolize oxygen differently. DCA appears to have the ability to change the cancer cell's metabolism back to normal, which in turn makes them susceptible to cell death.
There have only been very limited studies on DCA but so far the results are encouraging. A study by the University of Alberta using laboratory concluded that "DCA induces apoptosis [the process of natural programmed cell death], decreases proliferation, and inhibits tumor growth, without apparent toxicity." 
Given the initial positive results, a small human trial with only 5 cancer patients was conducted in 2010. The patients suffered from a variety of solid tumors including cancer of the brain. The study noted a number of positive effects including that "DCA therapy also inhibited the hypoxia-inducible factor–1a, promoted p53 activation, and suppressed angiogenesis both in vivo and in vitro."  Angiogenesis is the process by which cancers build new blood vessels to themselves in order feed their growth; inhibiting the growth of these new blood vessels may help to starve the cancer. As a result of these findings, the scientists concluded that "Metabolic modulation may be a viable therapeutic approach in the treatment of glioblastoma."
These results are certainly encouraging but it must be noted that they are of very limited scope. A lot of compounds kill cancer in mice and in test tubes but do not work on humans. There is no conclusive evidence that DCA cures cancer, just some very interesting preliminary results.
Sadly, it appears that these results are not being actively investigated by the pharmaceutical companies. DCA cannot be patented because it is not a new compound, and so many drug companies may regard investing in drug trials involving DCA as unprofitable since they would not be guaranteed ownership of the drug and so others could profit from their research. Despite these promising preliminary results, the researchers at the University of Alberta had to solicit donations online in order to fund even their very limited study.
Possible Cure for Cancer - Glenn Beck on DCA
Alternative Treatment for Cancer
This article about DCA and its use as a potential alternative cancer treatment, is not meant to recommend its use. The FDA has not evaluated any of the claims concerning DCA. DCA and this article are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. I have no control over any sites to which this article links and do not endorse any claims found there.
Taking DCA Without A Prescription
It is important to note that what little research has been done has NOT PROVEN THAT DCA CURES CANCER, or even that it helps slow it down. Some of the test results have been promising, but a lot of chemicals seem promising at first and then prove to be completely useless or even dangerous up further studies.
Nevertheless, many cancer patients are not waiting for the results of more experiments on DCA, and are self-medicating in an effort to cure their cancer. DCA is fairly easily available from a number of chemical supply companies as well as websites that have sprung up just to sell DCA.
Using DCA has a number of risks. Preliminary results indicate that DCA may cause nerve damage and also have cancer causing effects of its own (though it must be acknowledged that many approved chemotherapy drugs also cause cancer.) Most importantly, it is not known whether DCA will have any effect on the cancer, and taking DCA in place of conventional treatment may be suicidal. Taking DCA in conjunction with conventional radiation or chemotherapy may also be deadly because there have been no trials which study the interaction between DCA and any medications that the cancer patient may be taking. There may be serious adverse interactions.
Despite the many unknowns the hope that DCA holds out for many cancer patients is irresistible. The excitement over this potential cancer treatment has been heightened by sensationalistic reporting by people such as Glenn Beck who have alleged that a cure for cancer has been found but essentially suppressed or ignored by mainstream medicine.
University of Alberta Scientists Discuss Their Findings on DCA
Some Quotes About DCA
DCA is unique among potential alternative cancer treatments because there are actually some peer reviewed publications on the compound. Here are some relevant quotes from journals as well as mainstream media and scientists:
- The results are intriguing because they point to the critical role that mitochondria play: they impart a unique trait to cancer cells that can be exploited for cancer therapy"
-- Dario Alteri
Director, University of Massachusetts Cancer Center
- "I think DCA can be selective for cancer because it attacks a fundamental process in cancer development that is unique to cancer cells. ... One of the really exciting things about this compound is that it might be able to treat many different forms of cancer"
-- Dr. Evangelos Michelakis
University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine
- "If there were a magic bullet [for cancer], though, it might be something like dichloroacetate, or DCA..." Newsweek, January 23, 2007
When tested on cancer cells, DCA showed promise in combating some cancers. However it also made some cancer types worse and even protected some cancers from standard chemotherapy.
In short, the hype about DCA is probably undeserved. It is not a cancer cure. The enthusiasm for DCA in the alternative cancer treatment community is an example of how many natural or alternative therapies are not really what they are made out to be. Desperate people often latch on to some promising results, but because they are not scientists, they may not understand the big picture and how one research study complements or contradicts another. Not every promising cancer treatment is a cure which is being suppressed by big-pharma; sometimes promising leads turn out to be dead ends.
Jake on May 20, 2012:
If I had cancer...how could I be treated with DCA.??
Robert P (author) from Canada on October 06, 2011:
@frogyfish - if it works this would truly be a poor man's cancer treatment, or rather it would not leave you poor like many conventional and costly cancer treatments. It would be great if it actually works. One good thing is that DCA is being investigated by a Canadian university. Canada has a system of free universal medicine. People have to pay for their own medications, but life saving medications can often be obtained for free or at subsidized prices. The Canadian government also encourages the use of generic drugs rather the more expensive name brand ones. If this thing is going to be developed into an actual treatment, Canada is the one place that might actually fund its development.
frogyfish from Central United States of America on October 06, 2011:
Very interesting subject here. Thanks for putting out this information for perusal. These kinds of "poor man's cancer treatment" need to be explored...but as you indicated, the big pharma mainly want their money...not real cures. Thank you for sharing. The videos told some real facts too.