Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Vitamin C and Cancer: A Personal Perspective
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By now, our publications (17, 18) were receiving some scattered attention, and we came under pressure to conduct "proper" trials. As a single-handed surgeon working in a relatively small hospital, it would have taken me a decade or more to collect a sufficient number of identical patients with an identical type of cancer, all at the same stage of their illness, to enable me to conduct a "proper" randomized double-blind clinical trial. We did the best we could; we conducted two controlled trials (19, 20) in which the survival time of groups of 100 cancer patients given supplemental ascorbate in the later stage of their illness was compared to the survival time of 1000 matched patients not given ascorbate. In the first study, the controls were selected "blind" by a young New Zealand doctor, specially employed for the purpose. I and a research assistant selected the controls for the second study. Both trials showed a definite survival advantage for the patients given ascorbate.

These papers attracted world-wide media attention, and prompted a deluge of letters from cancer patients in many countries. Dr. Pauling and I wrote the book Cancer and Vitamin C in the hope of answering such questions, and lightening our mail-bags, but our effort has been unsuccessful. The letters and telephone calls continue unabated. Dan Rather of CBS network news in a recent broadcast stated that they estimated that 100,000 cancer patients in the United States were now taking vitamin C, with or without the tacit consent of their doctors.

We have recently completed a four year trial involving 2,860 cancer patients attending three medium sized general hospitals in Scotland over the four year period from 1978 to 1982. This study was mainly funded by I.B.M. (United Kingdom) Ltd., who devised a computerized records system to suit our requirements. The data has been analyzed as follows: Firstly, patients who died within two weeks of first hospital attendance are excluded. Secondly, all patients who first attended the hospital less than six months before the study ended are also excluded. Finally, all patients who remain potentially cured (e.g. no known recurrence after primary curative surgery) are also excluded. This leaves 1,826 incurable cancer patients, some of whom received supplemental ascorbate (296) and the remainder (1532) who did not, effectively randomized by the date of first hospital attendance. The median survival time of the control patients, as measured from the date of first hospital attendance to the date of death (or to the end of the study, if still alive at that time), was 180 days, whereas the comparable time for the ascorbate group was 343 days (P less than 0.0001). The results of this study, in much more detail, are contained in a manuscript submitted to The New England Journal of Medicine in 1984; as yet (January 1986) no decision has been reached regarding acceptance or rejection for publication (21). It is regrettable that the whole vitamin C and cancer controversy seems to becoming a political football.