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DCA Cancer Treatment Pros and Cons Explained

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By Editor Last updated: June 18, 2020

Many cancer therapies benefit patients but their administration is limited to clinical trials. Dichloroacetate (DCA) is one such therapy that has anti-cancer properties supported by an extensive body of literature. In this article, we explore the pros and cons of DCA cancer therapy.

What is DCA treatment?

Dichloroacetate (DCA) is a water-soluble molecule that is an analog of acetic acid. It is used to treat chronic lactic acidosis and mitochondrial disease. It is also used clinically as a cauterizing agent.2 When administered in doses ranging from 50 to 200 mg/kg per day, DCA treatment has been found to have anti-tumor effects.1 However, DCA treatment is not approved by the FDA as a cancer treatment.2

Can DCA cure cancer?

Several preclinical studies have shown that DCA can reduce tumor mass and volume, decrease proliferation rate, and prevent the metastatic spread of cancer cells.1 DCA is effective against oral cancer cells. It has also been found to retard the progress of a pancreatic cancer model.1

A 2007 study by Canadian researchers suggested that DCA can reverse cancer growth.3 The experiments involved treating rats injected with human cancer cells. DCA treatment led to a shrinkage in tumor size without damage to healthy cells.2

DCA has synergistic beneficial effects with several chemotherapeutic agents, i.e., it appears to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. One study found that DCA in combination with paclitaxel chemotherapy increases the efficiency of killing cancer cells in non-small cell lung carcinoma.1 Similarly, co-treatment with DCA and cisplatin in advanced bladder cancer can dramatically reduce tumor volume compared to when either drug is used alone.1 The use of DCA with the antibiotic salinomycin has been tested on colorectal cancer cell lines with a demonstrable synergistic effect, especially against multi-drug resistant cancers.1 DCA and recombinant arginase administration have anti-proliferative effects on triple-negative breast cancer.1Similar results have been obtained when DCA is used with various chemotherapy drugs to treat cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, melanoma, and glioma.1

How does DCA kill cancer cells?

Cancer cells have a high rate of glycolytic activity (the breakdown of glucose to obtain energy). They also have reduced mitochondrial oxidation, which is known as the Warburg effect. The high rate of glucose breakdown leads to excessive production of lactate in the tumor environment, a state known as metabolic acidosis. The tumor cells use the lactate to support their growth and prevent apoptosis (programmed cell death). DCA selectively targets cancer cells, forcing them to shift their metabolism from glycolysis to mitochondrial oxidation. This makes it impossible for malignant cells to sustain the demands for cellular energy. Moreover, by limiting lactate production, DCA counteracts the acidic tumor microenvironment, leading to inhibition of tumor growth.1

What are the side effects of DCA?

Dichloroacetate (DCA) treatment is considered safe and nontoxic.1 The most common side effects of DCA treatment include gastrointestinal signs and symptoms. A limiting factor in the clinical use of DCA as a cancer therapy is the potential for peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nervous system). Administration of antioxidants can help minimize DCA-induced neuropathy.1



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