Revisiting vitamin C and cancer

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1317-1318
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8671

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In the early 1970s, the two-time Nobel Prize–winning chemist Linus Pauling proposed that high doses of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can act as an antioxidant to reduce cancer. Pauling and his colleague Ewan Cameron reported that cancer patients given intravenous vitamin C (10 g/day) followed by oral delivery had an increased rate of survival (1). This led to two large clinical trials carried out by the Mayo Clinic in the late 1970s and mid-1980s (2, 3), which demonstrated that oral administration of a high dose of vitamin C had no efficacy as a cancer therapeutic. Furthermore, dietary antioxidants have failed as anticancer agents in clinical trials (4). However, on page 1391 in this issue, Yun et al. (5) show that high doses of vitamin C selectively kill colorectal cancer cells carrying activating mutations in the oncogenes KRAS or BRAF, which are often refractory to approved targeted therapies.