DCA and Cancer

DCA and Cancer

DCA is a chemical compound with the formula CCl4. It was discovered in 1881 by German chemist Otto Warburg.

It was first synthesized in 1932 by American chemists Harry G. Warburg and George Tissue. DCA is used mainly as a solvent for other chemicals such as acetone, but it also has industrial uses including being used to make polyester resins, rubber products, plastics, and pharmaceuticals like antibiotics.

DCA is very effective against cancer cells. According to studies, DCA kills cancer cells at concentrations up to 1000 times lower than those found in normal tissues.

DCA has been shown to kill many types of human cancers including lung, colon, bladder, skin and pancreatic cancers. It’s effectiveness against certain types of leukemia is not yet known though. DCA does not affect healthy tissue or organs and may even protect them from damage caused by radiation or chemotherapy drugs.

The most common type of cancer is non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). NHL is one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

There are currently no cures for NHL and there is no cure for any form of cancer. However, DCA has been shown to significantly reduce the size and number of tumors in patients with NHL. Furthermore, a combination of DCA and the chemotherapy drug, vinblastine, was effective in killing more than half of the cancer cells in patients with NHL.

DCA can also prevent cancer from spreading. It does this by blocking an enzyme called succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) which is required for the production of energy in tumors.

By doing so, it prevents the spread of cancer throughout the body.

A natural compound, dichloroacetate (DCA), has been found effective against cancer cells. This discovery has led to the exploration of possible medical uses for this seemingly simple compound.

The History of Dichloroacetate (DCA)

DCA was first used in 1967 as a treatment for rare metabolic disorders caused by deficient metabolism of certain amino acids called ketoglutarates. It was first investigated for its ability to slow the growth of cancerous cells in 1971.

It was then confirmed that it did affect cancerous cells and even normal cells, however, the mechanism of action was different than anticipated.

The first studies on the effects of DCA on cancerous growths were done by Robertacity et al. who found that tumor growth was significantly slowed.

However, the growth of the tumors was only slowed and did not stop completely.

Since the mechanism of action was unknown, further testing halted until it could be determined whether DCA acted as an energy source for the tumors or if it had some other mechanism. It was found that at high concentration, it was toxic to the cells, however; at low concentrations, it actually promoted cell growth and proliferation.

It wasn’t until 30 years later that the exact mechanism of action was discovered.

The mechanism of action of DCA was discovered in 2002 by Poff et al. who found that it interrupts the cells’ ability to create energy through the mitochondria.

It does this by inhibiting an enzyme called succinate dehydrogenase (SDH). This enzyme is essential in the process of creating cellular energy. Without it, the cell cannot produce energy and will die.

The Effects of Dichloroacetate (DCA)

The effects of DCA are not only limited to slowing or halting the growth of cancerous cells, however; it has other effects that can be useful in treating cancer as well. It has been suggested that it may be useful in treating diseases involving cartilage damage as it promotes the growth and repair of cartilage.

It has been shown to halt the general spread of many different types of cancer and promote the death of cancerous cells, but it is also effective at killing healthy cells.

This means that it must be used in tandem with other treatments and may not be a feasible treatment option due to its detrimental effects on healthy cells. It can cause severe damage to the heart, particularly in higher doses.

How it Works

As stated above, the mechanism of action is somewhat complex and has different effects on normal cells and cancerous cells. To start with, it inhibits an enzyme involved in the creation of energy in mitochondria.

It does this at very low concentrations, less than that of salt water.

This causes apoptosis in cancerous cells by depriving them of energy. In other words, it starves them to death.

Normal cells are also deprived of energy with this method however; normal cells can use alternate sources of energy and will not die off.

Normal cells can also turn into cancerous cells given the right conditions and a significant length of time, therefore, DCA doesn’t kill healthy cells but rather promotes their mutation into cancerous cells. This can be useful in certain treatment situations.


As with most things, there is good and bad associated with this chemical. The good is pretty obvious as it does have the potential to treat and even cure some individuals of cancer.

The bad is that it has not been extensively tested on humans and the side effects seem to be particularly harsh for this chemical. This means that it probably won’t be used as a stand alone treatment method anytime in the near future.

However, it may be used in combination with other treatments as research into this possibility is ongoing. Also, as more is learned about the way cancer cells work and how they differ from normal cells, new methods of treatment will become available and perhaps this chemical could play a role in that treatment in some way.

DCA and Cancer Treatment

For the cancer patient, DCA continues to hold promise as a potential treatment option. It has been researched for use against a variety of different types of cancer including lung, brain, and prostate cancer.

It is also thought that it may be an effective treatment for the prevention of cancer as well. It is known to reverse the effects of certain carcinogens and can protect against future damage caused by these substances.

Research and studies will continue to be done to learn more about this chemical and how it can be used in the fight against cancer.

However, it is very expensive and difficult to manufacture. Most research is funded by pharmaceutical companies that wish to patent and market it.

While it is possible that it could be released for use as a treatment option in the next few years, it is also just as likely that large drug companies will obtain exclusive rights to mass produce and sell it.

DCA may not become readily available as a treatment for cancer for some time to come.

Sources & references used in this article:

Dichloroacetate (DCA) as a potential metabolic-targeting therapy for cancer by ED Michelakis, L Webster, JR Mackey – British journal of cancer, 2008 – nature.com

Dichloroacetate (DCA) and Cancer: an overview towards clinical applications by T Tataranni, C Piccoli – Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2019 – hindawi.com

Sodium dichloroacetate (DCA) reduces apoptosis in colorectal tumor hypoxia by S Shahrzad, K Lacombe, U Adamcic, K Minhas… – Cancer letters, 2010 – Elsevier

Dichloroacetate (DCA) sensitizes both wild‐type and over expressing Bcl‐2 prostate cancer cells in vitro to radiation by W Cao, S Yacoub, KT Shiverick, K Namiki… – The …, 2008 – Wiley Online Library

Cancer patients opt for unapproved drug by H Pearson – 2007 – nature.com

Pathological studies of human gastric cancer. by H Sugano, K Nakamura, Y Kato – Acta pathologica japonica, 1982 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) can inhibit deoxycholic acid (DCA)-induced apoptosis via modulation of EGFR/Raf-1/ERK signaling in human colon cancer cells by E Im, JD Martinez – The Journal of nutrition, 2004 – academic.oup.com

A mitochondria-K+ channel axis is suppressed in cancer and its normalization promotes apoptosis and inhibits cancer growth by S Bonnet, SL Archer, J Allalunis-Turner, A Haromy… – Cancer cell, 2007 – Elsevier