Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Say No to These Cancer Remedies

WHILE SOME COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES PROVIDE VALUE for those with cancer, others don’t work.

Up to 30 percent of individuals with cancer have tried a so-called “cure” that is futile medicine, potentially wasting time and money. In addition, use the wrong alternative medicine, and you may put yourself in harm’s way.

Today we explore three popular complementary approaches to cancer management: high doses of vitamin C, cannabis oil (including Rick Simpson Oil), and herbal remedies.

1. Vitamin C

Many of my patients believe that very high doses of vitamin C is a good cancer treatment tool. From where did this idea come?

Research in the 1970s suggested that the nutrient is toxic to cancer cells. While initial research hinted at the promise of vitamin C as an anti-cancer agent, subsequent analyses showed these studies to be flawed.

Photo by Julia Zolotova on Unsplash

Let’s look at the high-level evidence suggesting vitamin C doesn’t fight cancer and may create expensive urine. Large randomized clinical trials showed no drop in cancer incidence for those consuming vitamin C supplements.

For instance, the Physicians’ Health Study II randomly assigned over 14,000 males 50 years or older to receive vitamin C (500 milligrams daily) or a placebo for eight years. No differences in cancer incidence emerged between the two groups. An additional three years of post-study follow-up revealed no differences in cancer (or prostate cancer, specifically) risk.

Turning to females, the Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study included almost 8000 females. Consumption of vitamin C 500 milligrams daily for 9.4 years did not affect cancer incidence.

There can be some downsides to vitamin C supplement use. For example, vitamin C increases your kidneys’ excretion of oxalate, raising the risk of kidney stones.

Look at the results of an observational study with over 23,000 males (without kidney stones) followed for 12 years. Vitamin C supplementation appeared associated with a near-doubling (relative risk 1.92) of the risk of developing kidney stones.

But there’s more: Recently, researchers have shown that vitamin C given through a vein (intravenously) can have different effects than the pill form. Might vitamin C reduce radiation therapy side effects? Chemotherapy toxicity?

I could find no high-level evidence that we should use Rick Simpson Oil (and other forms of cannabis oil) for cancer treatment, even as some early studies show promise.

I am cautious and would wait until we have better evidence before advocating for the routine use of vitamin C. When IV vitamin C is combined with certain anti-cancer drugs, the anti-cancer drugs may not work as well. Kaiser Permanente provides a nice overview of intravenous vitamin C:Intravenous Vitamin C (PDQ®): Integrative, alternative, and complementary therapies – Patient…Vitamin C is a nutrient found in food and dietary supplements. It is an antioxidant and also plays a key role in making…healthy.kaiserpermanente.org.

In addition, case reports show that individuals with an inherited disorder called G6PD deficiency should avoid high doses of vitamin C because it may cause hemolysis.

Because vitamin C may make your body absorb iron more readily, high doses of the vitamin are not a good idea for those with hemochromatosis (here, the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs).

Photo by CRYSTALWEED cannabis on Unsplash

2. Cannabis Oil

Created from marijuana plants, hemp or marijuana oil has no good evidence that it can kill cancer. Admittedly, cannabis may ease some cancer treatment side effects, such as nausea and appetite loss. If you are considering using this drug, please discuss it with your cancer doctor before using it.

Cannabis oil comes in many forms, including cannabidiol (CBD) oil, often part of medical marijuana. Unlike many other cannabis oils, Rick Simpson Oil is high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana. THC is the marijuana chemical that provides the “high.”

Rick Simpson Oil (and other forms of cannabis oil) don’t have high-level evidence to support their use for cancer treatment, even as some early studies show promise.

Some studies in the lab and animals show THC and other cannabis chemicals have anti-cancer properties, including blocking cancer cells from spreading. I look forward to seeing what ongoing research reveals. And remember: While well-tolerated by most, cannabis can have toxicities such as memory impairment and attention loss.

3. Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies do not prevent or treat cancer. Moreover, using herbal tools may lower the effectiveness of anti-cancer tools such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

On the other hand, some herbs may ease cancer treatment-related side effects. Ginger, with its anti-nausea properties, may help some. The evidence, however, is mixed.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2020 guidelines offer that the evidence is insufficient for a recommendation for or against using ginger to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea. So I would offer that using herbal remedies such as ginger is not a hard “no,” as my title implies; rather, talk to your cancer doctors about their use.Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention and TreatmentMore than 180 spice-derived compounds have been identified and explored for their health benefits (Aggarwal et al.…www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Several Cochrane reviews show no convincing evidence (in the form of randomized trials) to support Chinese herbal medicine use as a treatment for esophageal or lung cancer.

In addition, a study of chemotherapy (gemcitabine) with or without Huachansu in patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreas cancer showed no benefit from the combined approach.

Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

If you decide to try a complementary approach to cancer management, please let your cancer management team know what you are doing. Some non-traditional approaches may compromise the traditional treatment effectiveness.

Thank you for joining me today.


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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