Sodium dichloroacetate, commonly referred to simply as dichloroacetate or DCA, is a buffered form of dichloracetic acid. This synthetic chemical compound has gained attention because it shows some potential as a cancer treatment. The buffered form of dichloracetic acid is not an acid and can be taken by mouth without causing burning. Sodium dichloroacetate is not an FDA-approved drug and so is not readily available as a pharmaceutical-grade product. Consult with your doctor if you are interested in this potential treatment, which is still in the early research stages.
The only confirmed medical use for sodium dichloroacetate is for removing warts and other skin growths, according to the American Cancer Society. Researchers have tested it on humans for decreasing lactic acid buildup, or lactic acidosis, in rare diseases involving metabolism or caused by severe head injuries and malaria. Side effects have been a problem with this possible treatment.
Doctors at the University of Alberta have been researching mitochondria in cancer cells, according to the ACS. Mitochondria are tiny functional structures inside all cells. In the laboratory, abnormal mitochondria appeared to keep cancer cells alive. Because sodium dichloroacetate can affect an important enzyme in mitochondria, the researchers theorized it might normalize mitochondria functioning in the cancer cell, which might render it noncancerous.
A study by the University of Alberta researchers published in the January 2007 issue of "Cancer Cell" showed that dichloroacetate slowed the growth of cancer cells in a lab dish and that rats drinking water treated with this substance experienced much slower tumor growth than rats not drinking this type of water. The University of Alberta website explains that dichloroacetate does not affect noncancerous tissue, unlike most types of chemotherapy.
The "Cancer Cell" study found that dichloroacetate kills brain, breast and lung cancer cells. Further laboratory and animal research noted by the ACS indicates sodium dichloroacetate effects on specific types of cancer. Radiation seems more effective against prostate cancer cells if they had already been exposed to dichloroacetate. Breast cancer cells in rats did not spread as much if the rats were given this substance, and mildly to moderately invasive endometrial cancer cells were more prone to dying off when exposed to dichloroacetate.
In the United States, only physicians involved in research with sodium dichloroacetate can obtain it legally, because it is not an approved medication or supplement. People may be able to participate in clinical trials with the treatment, and some have obtained it online, according to the ACS. The ACS warns that some suppliers sell only industrial or technical-grade sodium dichloroacetate, which is not manufactured with the same quality standards as the pharmaceutical-grade form. Sodium dichloroacetate also is associated with numerous side effects, including nerve damage resulting in weakness and numbness, liver damage and low blood sugar. Additionally, some animal studies have indicated that dichloroacetate causes liver cancer.