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Canadian Cancer Society’s perspective on DCA

31 October 2013

Dichloroacetate (DCA) is sometimes mentioned in media and other sources as a potential cure for cancer. While early studies of DCA have shown some interesting results, it has yet to be proven as a safe and effective cancer treatment in humans.

Our perspective

The Canadian Cancer Society has concerns about Canadians with cancer seeking DCA because we don’t know enough about its risks and benefits. In the absence of adequate and extensive clinical evidence, the Society does not advise cancer patients to use DCA, unless they are part of a clinical trial. DCA is not an approved cancer treatment in Canada or anywhere else in the world.

Among the key issues that need to be determined through clinical trials are:

  • Is DCA effective in shrinking tumours?
  • Can DCA be used safely in cancer patients at doses needed for effectiveness?
  • Are there critical doses or methods of administration to achieve optimum anti-cancer effects?

Background

In early 2007, University of Alberta researchers published results of a study about DCA stating that the agent showed promise in shrinking tumours in laboratory rats and human cell lines (human cells grown in a petri dish).

Subsequent studies have looked at DCA in different settings, including a 2009 Society-funded study showing that DCA is not effective at killing colon cancer cells in mice and, in some instances, caused tumours to grow. In early 2010, results were published from the first clinical trial for DCA looking at its effects on a specific type of human brain tumour in a very small number of patients. While the results were hopeful, clinical trials for DCA as a cancer treatment are still in the early phases (phase 1 and 2 trials).

Learn more about clinical trials for DCA currently being conducted. Learn more about the phases of cancer drug and treatment testing. 

Developing new treatments for cancer is a lengthy process. It takes time to fully explore and understand early scientific findings. In any drug development, it is often an unfortunate outcome that early, promising results do not lead to new drugs or treatments. Drugs and treatments advance through a testing system based on scientific merit and proof. There must be substantial evidence and promise for any drug or treatment to advance to the next stage of research, and each stage must produce promising results to merit a clinical trial. At this time, the scientific community has not seen these types of results for DCA.

Every year, we invite Canadian researchers to send us proposals for cancer research, which are then rated following a rigorous review process. Only the best proposals with the greatest potential for preventing cancer and helping cancer patients and their families can be funded with the donor dollars raised by the Canadian Cancer Society. The Society has previously funded research projects that are either directly relevant to DCA or looked more generally at its mechanisms of action. We welcome proposals about DCA, which are considered for funding in the same fair manner as all other research applications.

The Canadian Cancer Society is committed to sharing current news about cancer treatment to Canadians and our experts monitor research about DCA closely. If the evidence for DCA does one day show that the agent would be beneficial in treating certain types of cancer, the Society would update its information about this agent.