CANCER QUACKERY lecture notes from
Ed Friedlander, M.D., Pathologist

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A sorry monument to human greed and stupidity (mostly the latter).
As a nation, we spend more money on health frauds every year than we do on medical research. * The major cancer frauds of this century: apricot pits ("Laetrile" -- generated >100 new millionaires) cryptococcus ("Glover serum") distilled water ("Koch antitoxins") fecal bacteria ("Hett serum") grapes ("Brandt Harmony Healing nature cure") magic box ("Orgone energy" -- collected "cosmic blue bions") magic raw-liver-and-fruit chopper ("Gerson cure")
Luigi di Bella cure -- melatonin, vitamins, and so forth in a secret mix. Italian far-right-wing politics. It was reported that out of his 3000 patients, 1500 never had cancer, and of the ones that did, he had four possible responses, all of whom had received other therapy. All of this strongly recalls the laetrile business. Br. Med. J. 317: 366, 1998
     mineral oil and creatine ("Krebiozen") 

     mistletoe ("Iscador" -- collection times based on astrology) 

     mucor and rhizopus bread molds ("Mucorhicin") 

     novocaine ("Gerovital") 

     pepsin, cascara, herbs ("Hoxsey cure" -- anti-Semitic) 

     placenta extract ("Bahamas cure" -- Science 241: 1285, 1988) 

     powdered diamonds ("Ayur-Vedic diamond carbon compound") 

     shark cartilage 

     unknown substance ("antineoplastons"; JAMA 267: 2924, 1992; for political reasons, the NCI began a study in 1992) 

     unknown substance ("Greek cure") 

     unknown substance, tooth extractions ("Issels cure") 

     unknown substances ("Maharishi Ayur-Vedic medicine"; little or no relation to real Hinduism) 

     Venus fly-trap extract ("Carnivora") 

     warts ground up in sour milk ("Sanders cure") 

     weird diet ("Zen macrobiotics"; no relation to real Zen or Buddhism)
In my opinion, after careful review, today's claims that "cancer is caused by negative attitudes, and meditation helps the body fight cancer" are groundless. * New Age guru Carl Simonton, M.D., a "Silva Mind Control" buff, based his claim that "negative emotions cause cancer" on his study of his radiation therapy patients. He told his patients they were "responsible for having cancer", but promised each patient a good result if the patient practiced "visualization" to enhance treatment effects. Afterwards, the patients who got good results "had good attitudes", while the treatment failures acted bitter, hurt, and angry. Cause and effect, huh? Read Dr. Simonton's own account in The Holistic Health Handbook, 1977.

* I hope Dr. Simonton and his followers are right. However, this cruel travesty is still the basis for most current pop-culture claims that "a positive mental attitude helps fight cancer", etc., etc. Don't confuse this stuff with honest studies of the mind-body link. These do exist (and generally fail to support New Age "whole person", "you create your own reality" claims).

Dr. Simonton's book, Getting Well Again, contains a grisly account of his asking each new patient, "Why did you want to die? Why did you need to have cancer?"

One current scam is Mexican clinics that offer "the same chemotherapy and immunotherapy as you would get in the States, plus natural healing remedies that both fight the cancer and prevent chemotherapy side effects." In fact the "methotrexate", "interferon", etc., etc., administered here are placebos -- explaining the marvelous lack of side effects!

* Another disturbing event in recent memory was the planting of a series of false research reports by the Maharishi's people ("transcendental meditation") in refereed medical journals. (Suckers included "Lancet" and "JAMA".) The pattern of deception by this particular group was massive. (Stealing university department stationery was just the beginning....) As one former participant put it, "We thought we weren't doing anything wrong, because we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to advance our guru's plan to save the world." See JAMA 266: 1471 & 1749, 1991.

"Live cell analysis" shows people their own cooled blood under phase contrast microscopy on TV. As the blood cools, the plasma proteins precipitate unpredictably, forming interesting little structures which look and move (Brownian movement) like micro-organisms. The operator (who may be sincere) tells the patient that the doctors missed a serious infection that underlies his/her symptoms.

* The anti-science philosophers have has a bonanza with this recently ("My cultural prejudice is as good as your cultural prejudice"; "It's only our technologies that differ", etc., etc.; Med. Anthro. Quart. 10: 657, 1996).

Quacks are convincing because they:

The cancer quack cannot lose. Whenever a patient:

Warning to medical students

It's fine to "keep an open mind", but if you get involved with these people, you will be bitterly disappointed. It is of no consequence whatever if some quacks are "sincere". (Most are decent, altruistic people who are misguided. Suspect a pathological grief reaction when a scientifically-trained person becomes the staunch advocate of an unproven remedy -- Linus Pauling, the krebiozen testimonials).

The best response that you, as an ethical medical student, can make to quackery is to practice honest, informed medicine while making full use the quack's main techniques:

You can find a guide to complementary cancer medicine -- such things as diet, massage, meditation, and so forth -- in Curr. Opin. Onc. 9: 327, 1997. Less friendly: West. J. Med. 163: 463, 1995. The similarities to, and differences from, what's listed above are obvious. Note that unlike quacks, decent complementary practitioners talk about helping rather than curing, and do not offer radical new ideas about the body or cosmos.