Many people with cancer want to try anything that can potentially help them fight their disease. Complementary and alternative cancer therapies often do not play a direct role in curing cancer, but they can help patients in coping with the signs and symptoms of cancer and cancer therapies. DMSO is an experimental treatment that has been shown to slow down the progression of cancer in laboratory studies.1 In this article, we talk about DMSO and the different ways in which it can potentially help cancer patients.
What is DMSO?
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a colorless chemical solvent that is rapidly absorbed by the skin. It can also penetrate other cellular membranes without damaging them.2 This makes it a good transportation device to carry small molecules across biological barriers. Currently, the only approved use of DMSO is as a prescription drug for interstitial cystitis, where it helps reduce pain and inflammation in the urinary bladder.1 DMSO is also used to treat chemotherapy extravasation (leakage of chemotherapy drugs into the surrounding tissues).1
Some laboratory studies have shown that DMSO may benefit cancer patients by slowing the progression of their disease. However, the safety and efficacy of DMSO for cancer treatment have not yet been confirmed by robust clinical trials.
Can DMSO cure cancer?
There is no evidence that DMSO can cure cancer. It is not approved for over-the-counter use due to a lack of information about potential side effects.1 However, DMSO has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also known to trap free radicals that can cause oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is a well-known cause of cancer.1 Many studies have shown that DMSO has anti-tumor effects, as detailed below:
- DMSO stimulates the tumor suppressor protein HLJ1 in lung adenocarcinoma. By upregulating HLJ1, DMSO can significantly inhibit cancer cell proliferation, invasion, and migration.3
- Exposure of human carcinoma cells to DMSO in the laboratory was found to cause loss of tumorigenic and metastatic potential (ability to form tumors and spread).4
- DMSO has demonstrable anti-inflammatory activity. The connection between chronic inflammation and cancer is well understood.5
- DMSO was found to produce tumor retardation in mouse breast cancer cells. These anti-tumor effects provide insight into potential new avenues in immunotherapy.6
- DMSO has shown benefit in managing intractable cancer pain.7
- DMSO can be used to carry anti-cancer drugs further into the skin to effectively treat skin cancers in a less invasive manner.8
What are the risks of DMSO?
Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is an inexpensive, naturally derived, non-toxic solvent that has many therapeutic benefits.7 However, there are some caveats to its use. You should not take DMSO if you are pregnant.1 For the most part, small doses of DMSO appear to be safe. The most common side effects associated with DMSO are mild and transient skin reactions and gastrointestinal trouble. Some patients report a garlicky taste in the mouth and halitosis (bad breath) following the use of DMSO. Other DMSO adverse effects that have been reported include hypotension (low blood pressure), sedation, agitation, and discoloration of the urine.1 Animal studies have shown that DMSO can cause neural damage in mice; however, the clinical relevance of this finding in humans is unknown.1