New research is underway which might shed much-needed light on a popular but highly controversial cancer treatment.
Thousands of cancer patients worldwide are turning to high-dose infusions of vitamin C in the hopes of halting the cancers' spread. However to date there has been little to no hard scientific evidence the treatment can help with this.
Now world-leading New Zealand vitamin C researcher Professor Margreet Vissers is launching a new study which it's hoped will help give a more definitive answer as to whether vitamin C holds genuine potential as a treatment.
Her Otago University study will analyse the levels of vitamin C in breast tumours and compare health outcomes for patients with varying levels of the vitamin in those tumours.
The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation have teamed up for the first time to fund the study which will be carried out analysing samples from the Christchurch Cancer Society tissue bank.
Professor Vissers has been studying how vitamin C works in tumour tissue for the past decade. Her previous ground-breaking study, published last year, examined bowel and endometrial tumor tissue and discovered that patients with higher levels of vitamin C in their tumours had extended disease-free survival.
"The use of vitamin C by cancer patients is commonplace but highly controversial," Professor Vissers said.
"Some patients claim to benefit but we've been short on clinical evidence. If vitamin C works, we need to know how it works and for which tumours. If this study shows that breast cancer responds in the same way as bowel cancer, we'll be able to include breast cancer patients in upcoming clinical studies."
Auckland mother Rochell Adams has been battling stage four breast cancer since 2009.
I certainly walk out of the clinic feeling a million dollars and my skin is glowing. It also helps with the pain- Cancer patient Rochell Adams
Despite surgery and chemotherapy the cancer returned in 2013 and spread to her lungs, spine, lymph nodes, and hips.
She was told she had two to four months left to live. She travelled to Germany for various treatments which shrank the tumours but didnt totally eradicate them. Her German doctors suggested she try vitamin C infusions on her return home. She now credits vitamin C, along with other natural therapies, for her ability to defy the odds so far.
"It makes me feel good when I've had vitamin C. I dont know what effect its having but it makes me feel good," she said.
"I certainly walk out of the clinic feeling a million dollars and my skin is glowing. It also helps with the pain."
Northland policeman Anton Kuria is another cancer patient who credits vitamin C infusions, along with a vitamin-rich diet, for his continued good health. He too was told he had just months to live two years ago when he left Auckland hospital with stage four leukemia.
Vitamin C infusions are currently offered in New Zealand by several doctors and health practitioners with a focus on complementary health. Costs vary depending on the frequency of the infusions and a patient's weight and other factors. Rochell Adams says she is paying $200 for fortnightly infusions.
Van Henderson, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Foundation, which approached Professor Vissers to extend her field of research into breast cancer, hopes this study will help provide much-needed scientific clarity for patients.
"We know that many women with advanced breast cancer will try intravenous vitamin C but its much harder to know if and how its working. The science behind Margreet's study makes a lot of sense. This might be a real chance to understand if vitamin C can really play a role in breast cancer. From there we can figure out how it should be used and when its most effective."
The study will examine 50 tissue samples from New Zealand women who have been through breast cancer.
Rochell Adams has a Give a Little page to assist with her treatment costs.