Bioethics Cancer Clinical trials Medicine Quackery

Slumming around The DCA Site (, the finale (for now)

I’ve probably beat this one into the ground over the last couple of days; so this will be uncharacteristically brief, because it’s time to move on. Also, it was fun to see DaveScot go into paroxysms to try to justify the dangerous, unethical, and reckless actions of Heather Nordstrom and her stepfather in setting up The DCA Site and its sister site,, where Heather et al are selling “Pet-DCA” in a ludicrously obvious (and probably ineffective) ploy to be able to claim to the FDA, “Hey, we’re not selling this for human consumption.” One wonders, perhaps, if DaveScot may actually have a conscience and whether learning what he’s unleashed by publicizing DCA as a “cheap cancer cure” that “big pharma” and the FDA are trying to keep from you has started to make him think twice. (It was through Uncommon Descent that the “entrepreneurs” responsible for these two websites learned about DCA in the first place.)

If there are any doubts remaining that DCA has entered the realm of Laetrile-like quackery on the Internet, come with me one more time as I delve into the Twilight Zone that is the forums on The DCA Site and doubt no more:

It is disappointing that DCA is not available. Therefore, my company has decideded to provide products with DCA. There will be 3 products, a black salve with DCA, an internal product with MSM and DMSO formula and a bloodroot tincture with DCA. Our site is We will keep you posted. The products will be available by March 1, 2007.

And, disturbingly, comes this sad, desperate response:

I read your site, and this is amazing news about the new Black Salve product for skin and internal use containing DCA. Once it is truly available I would love to purchase some, as any kind of hope for a cure is all we need!

Truly, you can’t make stuff like this up. DCA “salve”? There’s no evidence whatsoever that topical DCA would do anything at all. Dichloroacetic acid can indeed be absorbed through the skin, but would have the unfortunate drawback of causing nasty burns. Even if buffered sodium dichloroacetate could be absorbed through the skin, it would be unlikely to produce blood levels adequate to be therapeutic, either for congenital lactic acidosis or for cancer. Unfortunately, this bogus pitch and the hype that the unscrupulous are generating to sell DCA are having an effect among patients with cancer. One can only think that, if more people had better critical thinking skills, then there wouldn’t be so many people susceptible to this blatant hucksterism. For example, some people still believe that DCA is “not a drug” or “not chemotherapy:

I just learned that DCA is a compound and not a drug per se, and that regular health food stores and pharmacies do not carry it. It seems there must be a large “compounding” pharmacy in every major metro area.

I repeat yet again: DCA is a drug, and it is chemotherapy! What on earth do people think it is? In fact, contrary to the comments of some who seem to view DCA as a “natural” alternative to drugs and chemotherapy, DCA is in fact a chemical compound whose pharmacologic activity against congenital lactic acidosis and now cancer was discovered through scientific experimentation. It’s synthesized in chemical plants, not isolated from plants or other natural products. It produces side effects and adverse reactions, just like any other drug, reactions that are likely to be worse at higher doses.

And, yet again, if you want to know the price of the hype and “not a drug not chemotherapy” wishful thinking like what is being pushed by these websites, here it is:

My husband has been using DCA since early February. He has Glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that DCA is proposed to target. The naDCA he is using was made in a private lab. We turned away from our medical community, realizing that we would not receive blessings from them, since they considered him a “dead man walking”. From what I have read here, my husband seems to be the earliest “labrat”. We obtained the DCA in early February, started at a 5% dose,(to test toxicity or side effects, I suppose) and after 4 days , he insisted on taking 25mg per kg. He takes a liquid dose twice a day( totaling 25mg per kg). He has been taking DCA since Feb 7, 2006, with full dose as of Feb 11. No side effects to report as yet. Though side effects of DCA(numbness in fingers and appendages) are also symptoms of his disease, there are none to report at this time. He is also taking 100mg per day of thiamine. He is also on CCNU, Heparin, and 16 mg steroid. So far, so good. I am taking weekly urine samples to check his billyrubin, ph , etc. He still sees an oncologist, and takes chemo( CCNU). His doctors do not know that he is taking DCA. I do not trust them, they have not been terribly compassionate through this, and I do not feel that they would be as knowledgable as those of us that are in these desparate situations. I pray for all of us that I can report great news in the weeks to come. I still can’t decide at this point if he should take THiamine or not? Any thoughts?

Here we have a cancer patient taking DCA without telling his oncologist and at the same time as taking a powerful alkylating agent (CCNU) a drug for which there is no information regarding drug interactions with DCA. If this patient starts having problems, is he going to tell his oncologist? I’d hate to be his oncologist. I understand, as much as is possible without having lived it personally myself, the desperation of this patient, but it is misguided in the extreme to think that doctors would not be more knowledgeable about the patient about DCA. At the very least, the physician will be able to investigate what to look for and have a better chance of recognizing dangerous drug reactions or interactions than the average patient.

Of course, if the physician is unaware that the patient is taking something like DCA, then there’s virtually no chance of recognizing adverse reactions or of dealing with them properly.

Enough’s enough.

I think you’ll agree with me (and a reader who e-mailed me asking me why I haven’t done this already), it’s time to report these clowns to the appropriate authorities. The more who complain, the merrier.

ADDENDUM: Walnut has posted his critique on Daily Kos as well.

All Orac posts on DCA:

  1. In which my words will be misinterpreted as “proof” that I am a “pharma shill”
  2. Will donations fund dichloroacetate (DCA) clinical trials?
  3. Too fast to label others as “conspiracy-mongers”?
  4. Dichloroacetate: One more time…
  5. Laying the cluestick on DaveScot over dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer
  6. A couple of more cluesticks on dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer
  7. Where to buy dichloroacetate (DCA)? Dichloroacetate suppliers, even?
  8. An uninformative “experiment” on dichloroacetate
  9. Slumming around The DCA Site (, appalled at what I’m finding
  10. Slumming around The DCA Site (, the finale (for now)
  11. It’s nice to be noticed
  12. The deadly deviousness of the cancer cell, or how dichloroacetate (DCA) might fail
  13. The dichloroacetate (DCA) self-medication phenomenon hits the mainstream media
  14. Dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer: Magical thinking versus Tumor Biology 101
  15. Checking in with The DCA Site
  16. Dichloroacetate and The DCA Site: A low bar for “success”
  17. Dichloroacetate (DCA): A scientist’s worst nightmare?
  18. Dichloroacetate and The DCA Site: A low bar for “success” (part 2)
  19. “Clinical research” on dichloroacetate by A travesty of science
  20. A family practitioner and epidemiologist are prescribing dichloracetate (DCA) in Canada
  21. An “arrogant medico” makes one last comment on dichloroacetate (DCA)

Posts by fellow ScienceBlogger Abel Pharmboy:

  1. The dichloroacetate (DCA) cancer kerfuffle
  2. Where to buy dichloroacetate…
  3. Local look at dichloroacetate (DCA) hysteria
  4. Edmonton pharmacist asked to stop selling dichloroacetate (DCA)
  5. Four days, four dichloroacetate (DCA) newspaper articles
  6. Perversion of good science
  7. CBC’s ‘The Current’ on dichloroacetate (DCA)

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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