You can buy DCA (sodium dichloroacetate) online. But should you?
Touted as a simple, inexpensive cure for cancer, DCA kills some cancer cells when there is lots of oxygen. But when oxygen levels are low — a condition called hypoxia— DCA may actually increase growth of colorectal cancer tumors.
Dr. Brenda Coomber and her team at the University of Guelph in Canada found that in areas of tumors without much oxygen, DCA actually protected colorectal cancer cells from dying rather than killing them and tumors in mice grew.
Dr. Coomber treated colorectal cancer cells lines with DCA under normal oxygen conditions and when oxygen was low. With normal oxygen, DCA caused cancer cells to die, but there was less cell death with low oxygen.
When the tumor cells were implanted in mice, DCA actually caused tumors to grow in areas of low oxygen.
DCA is a prescription medicine used to treat a rare metabolic disorder in children that affects the way mitochondria in cells produce energy.
Mitochondria create oxygen radicals that are part of normal cell death. Some researchers think that DCA can force cancer cells to use mitochondria pathways leading to their death, while sparing normal tissues.
What Dr. Coomber’s team found was that this is partly true when oxygen levels are normal, but something very different happens when oxygen is depleted, as it is in many tumors.
Sodium dichloroacetate is not very effective at killing some kinds of cancer cells and, in fact, it has the opposite effect and could even make things worse.
Further, Dr. Coomber warned,
We are only beginning to tease these things out. DCA may well turn out to be an effective treatment in some cases, but it’s not necessarily safe in all cases. There are people out there buying this drug off the Internet and self-medicating — who knows what’s going on in their tumour? They might actually be making it worse.