Can IV Vitamin C Actually Fight Cancer?

Dr. Ivan Rusilko injects himself with vitamins and minerals at least once a day.
Dr. Ivan Rusilko injects himself with vitamins and minerals at least once a day.
Photo by Monica McGivern

Dr. Ivan Rusilko is a strong believer in the power of intravenous vitamin therapy. The Miami Beach physician (who's also a former model, two-time Mr. USA, and erotic-fiction novelist) custom-mixes IV concoctions he says can boost energy levels, improve sex lives, and strengthen immune systems.

In fact, Rusilko — profiled in this week's New Times feature about Miami's IV vitamin craze — says if he were ever diagnosed with cancer, he would skip chemotherapy in favor of intravenous vitamin C. 

That's a bold claim. But is there any scientific evidence to back up the idea?

The short answer is evidence suggests vitamin C might help in some cancer treatments, but it's too early to believe it could be a cure-all. 

High-dose vitamin C has been studied as a cancer treatment since the 1970s, when Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling advocated it. Several initial studies showed favorable results, but later trials by the Mayo Clinic failed to confirm any benefits. After that, vitamin C as a cancer treatment moved to the realm of alternative therapy.

But those studies tested vitamin C taken orally. Some IV proponents argue that vitamin C administered intravenously yields stronger benefits — and in recent years, several studies have shown promising results, renewing interest in the treatment. One study found intravenous vitamin C boosted the effectiveness of chemotherapy in mice and mitigated side effects in humans, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported that despite the study's findings, vitamin C "is unlikely to inspire the vigorous, and expensive, research necessary to become an approved tumor remedy" because of past discredited health claims and the inability of pharmaceutical companies to patent it. 

Laboratory studies have shown high doses of vitamin C might slow the growth and spread of certain types of cancer cells, the National Cancer Institute says. And some laboratory and animal studies have shown vitamin C plus anticancer therapies could be helpful.

However, the institute noted, other studies have found certain types of vitamin C might make chemo less effective. And IV vitamin C is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition. 

Other studies are underway. Writes Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan, an oncologist: "Until clinical trials are completed, it's premature to determine what role, if any, intravenous vitamin C may play in the treatment of cancer."


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