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“Alternative” cancer cures in 1979: How little things have changed

Sometimes blogging topics arise from the strangest places. It’s true. For instance, although references to how tobacco causes cancer and the decades long denialist campaign by tobacco companies are not infrequently referenced in my blogging (particularly from supporters of highly dubious studies alleging a link between cell phone radiation and cancer and the ham-handed misuse of the analogy by antivaccinationists, who seem to think that vaccine companies engage in deceit on a scale similar to the deceptive practices of tobacco companies in “denying” that vaccines cause autism and all the other conditions, diseases, and horrors their fevered imaginations attribute to them), I’ve never really delved particularly deeply into one of the most useful repositories of documents on the topic that exists, namely the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Actually, the reason I started poking around there is not due to tobacco science, but because a fellow blogger mentioned to me that there were some articles and documents about Stanislaw Burzynski there dating back to the late 1970s. My curiosity was piqued.

As I explored, however, I learned that the documents there were not so much about Stanislaw Burzynski per se. In fact, they were more about the state of the underground “alternative cancer cures” industry in the late 1970s, which interested me greatly. The reason is that, when it comes to having delved so deeply into cancer quackery, I’m a relative newbie. Compared to, for example, Wally Sampson, Stephen Barrett, Peter Moran, or even Kimball Atwood, I’m inexperienced, having only noticed this phenomenon in a big way in the Usenet newsgroup misc.health.alternative back around 2001 or so, give or take a year. As a result, I don’t have the shared historical perspective that they do, mainly because I can only learn about that era from reading, studying, and talking to people who were active then. After all, in the late 1970s I was still in high school, and in the 1980s I was in college and medical school. There was no Internet (at least none that I had access to and that contained the wealth of easily accessible information to which we have become accustomed). In any case, in high school I had other interests, and throughout the 1980s I was too focused on getting an education and training to be a surgeon and researcher, a process that extended into the late 1990s. (Yes, it takes that long sometimes, particularly if you are masochistic enough to want to get a PhD, complete a general surgery residency, and do a fellowship in surgical oncology.)

The articles I came across were actually from a rather surprising source: Penthouse magazine. I suppose that, in retrospect, I should not be quite so surprised. Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione was apparently always into dubious cancer cures, later in 1995 having achieved some notoriety by promoting claims that hydrazine sulfate had cured his wife Kathy Keeton of metastatic breast cancer. Ultimately Keeton did go on to die of complications of surgery for upper intestinal obstruction, which sounds as though it was probably due to a recurrence of her cancer. Before her death, Keeton was a journalist and co-founder of Omni and Longevity magazines, the former of which, I’m ashamed to admit, I used to read rather frequently. In any case, she appears to have been a person who survived longer than expected while being treated with conventional therapy (Tamoxifen) and hydrazine sulfate, surviving two years after her diagnosis, which is certainly not outside the expected survival time for metastatic breast cancer in the 1990s, particularly if it was estrogen-receptor positive.

Be that as it may, back in the fall of 1979 I was in high school, and if I got my hands on a copy of Penthouse magazine, you can be sure that I probably wasn’t interested in the articles, with the possible exception of the Penthouse Forum. (What can I say? I was a typical teen in the late 1970s.) In any case, back at that time I would also never have heard of one of the co-authors of this trilogy of articles, namely Gary Null, who is still at it more than 33 years later. The articles appeared in the following issues of Penthouse (click on the cover to go to the direct link to scanned PDF of the article from the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (fear not—what’s on the covers is tamer than what you can find in a typical Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; it’s another way that times have changed over the last 33 years):

Penthouse_Sep1979Penthouse_Oct1979
Penthouse_Nov1979

 

The Song Remains the Same, although the names do change

The first article in the trilogy, The Great Cancer Fraud by Gary Null and Robert Houston, is as good a place to start as any. It’s the longest of the three and the most comprehensive (if you can call it that) broadside against conventional cancer care that Gary Null can apparently muster. If you leave out a couple of the quackeries that I had never heard of, it’s also completely, utterly, and depressingly familiar to me, so much so that all Null would have to do would be to change some dates, update some figures, and add a couple of newer cancer quackeries, and it could very easily be published today on Null’s website, NaturalNews.com, or Whale.to. If you want evidence that the arguments made by promoters of “alternative cancer cures” are all variations on the same theme, a theme unchanged for decades, you really do need to read this article. It’s also amusing to look at the one ad left in for adult movies offering five Marilyn Chambers hardcore videos on sale for $366, marked down from $525. Who remembered porn was so expensive back in 1979? I just hope people who paid that much didn’t buy the Beta version. Oh, the horror of obsolescence!

But I digress. Sorry about that. I’m like Dug the Dog sometimes, and you never know what sort of thing will affect me like the word “squirrel” affected Dug.

Regular readers of SBM will likely find this article as utterly familiar as I did, with the possible exception of the last section of the article being taken up by touting Laetrile, which is rarely mentioned in SBM because in 2013 even cancer quacks don’t promote it much anymore, because even they seem to have accepted that it doesn’t work and can have nasty side effect of cyanide toxicity. (Whoops! Maybe I spoke too soon.) Indeed, if you read the Quackwatch article on Laetrile and compare it with the version of Laetrile discussed in Null’s article, you’ll wonder if the two are even on the same planet. Probably not. Either way, truly The Great Cancer Fraud is a blast from the past, except that when it was published, Gary Null was a young quackery supporter just building his reputation, and Laetrile was actually new news, having gained some traction in legislation thanks to the efforts of an incipient “health freedom” movement. (Remember, after all, that 1979 was the year that Led Zeppelin released its last album, In Through the Out Door, and The Cars released their second album, Candy-O.) Still, it’s worthwhile to look at some of the arguments and one or two of the “alternative cancer cures” that I hadn’t heard of.

Null began, as is his wont, by discussing what he saw as the skyrocketing incidence of cancer, which at the time was estimated to affect one in four people, meanwhile trotting out what are now tried-and-not-so-true gambits, lamenting the “failure” of the war on cancer (which was not even eight years old when this article was published), ranting about the “suppression” of real cures, and insinuating all sorts of dire conspiracies of the medical establishment and the media, which, to him, were all in collusion, along with the government to push only the “cut-poison-burn” approach to cancer. Actually, according to Null, the combination included the National Cancer Institute, the American Medical Association, “powerful chemical and drug industries,” the American Cancer Society, the Food and Drug Administration, and “many science writers who work for the national media.” This latter part of the conspiracy is particularly interesting to me, because my fellow bloggers and I have often lamented the fall of science writers and science/medical reporters in the “traditional” media. Remember that back then there was no Internet (at least the Internet at the time was restricted to relatively few academic, industrial, and military institutions), and there was no World Wide Web. Nor were there blogs and Twitter and Facebook. Science writers and science journalists were it for disseminating reliable scientific information to the masses in a form that people without scientific training could understand. No wonder Eric Merola, in his propaganda movie for Stanislaw Burzynski, so viciously goes after skeptical bloggers. He’s only doing exactly what Gary Null did 33 years ago when he attacked science and medical writers. As science journalism declined, science and medical blogging rushed in to fill the void as best as it could. So now we’re the new targets of people like Gary Null.

In fact, Null accused the American Cancer Society of, in essence, training journalists:

Let us look at how the cancer establishment influences these reporters — and then see how the reporters go into action to quash new cancer treatments.

The action begins every spring, when the American Cancer Society, one of the largest “charitable” organizations in the world, holds its national Science Writers’ Seminar at a resort locale. Here, selected health reporters from the leading media are soireed and surfeited in poolside luxury — a luxury that bespeaks the $126 million the ACS raised last year from the public — and slipped rah-rah cancer progress stories from acceptable researchers. The American Cancer Society seminars are essentially the spring fashion shows of cancer research, letting health and science reporters know where the big money’s going — although in actuality the expense has yielded almost complete failure at reducing the overall mortality level. There is always a “breakthrough” or two announced, and this right around contribution time, which nearly and coincidentally dovetails with the science writers’ conference.

Who knew the American Cancer Society was so powerful? Who knew it indoctrinated generations of health and science writers like that? What horrible things and dark secrets did the ACS inculcate into the science writers of the 1970s at these conferences? Well, it turns out that the UCSF archive actually has a summary of one of these seminars, the one held in 1975. Let’s take a look. According to the document, the seminar consists of daily morning and afternoon sessions in which noted cancer scientists give presentations followed by Q&A sessions, along with a general discussion after the end of each session. In 1975, there were sessions on genetics, the meaning of “high risk” when it comes to cancer, viruses in cancer (a hot topic even back in the 1970s), immunotherapy, hormones and breast cancer, and treatment advances in cancer. It all sounds so mundane and science-based. Of course, that’s the problem to someone like Null. Teaching journalists the latest in the science of cancer is generally considered a good thing, because journalists with a solid understanding of what they are reporting are more likely to get the science right, which is exactly what Null didn’t want and doesn’t want to this day. To him, it was all a conspiracy to indoctrinate science writers. Elsewhere in the article, Null lauds the rise of “self help” groups and writers as an antidote to that, the same way quacks laud the rise of alt-med bloggers today.

The more things change…

Does ACS still hold its Science Writers’ Seminar? I could see that the ACS was still doing them at least into the late 1990s, but I couldn’t find much after that. Maybe the ACS should resurrect the seminar series and include bloggers as well.

Null also touted a bunch of the usual quackery, such as the Gerson therapy, which is nonsense. One thing that piqued my interest was a treatment called Koch’s Glyoxylide. The reason that this caught my attention was the local connection. Dr. William F. Koch was a Detroit physician, and Null was particularly incensed at how the Wayne County Medical Society wrote a report in 1923 condemning Glyoxylide as worthless:

Koch’s work was judged and condemned to be worthless by the “Cancer Committee” of the Wayne County Medical Society in 1923 — a committee made up for the most part of surgeons and radium or X-ray “experts,” a class of people that assumed cancer to be curable only by these methods. As a result, both Koch and his cancer treatment were suppressed, and the oppression extended to the other doctors who attempted to use his methods in any kind of test.

Good going, Wayne County Medical Society! It apparently correctly identified the issue with glyoxylide, namely that it probably didn’t exist as a chemical and that his methods didn’t appear to do anything for cancer. The story of glyoxylide is actually rather fascinating, and perhaps I’ll revisit it sometime. For now, however, it suffices (to me at least) to say that it doesn’t work.

In that, glyoxylide was a lot like Lincoln’s Bacteriophage Method, which was promoted by Dr. Robert E. Lincoln:

Lincoln identified bacterial strains as contributing factors in hundreds of perplexing disease symptoms plaguing the human body, symptoms ranging from tiredness to leg cramps to mental depression to the common cold — and, ultimately, to cancer. In the late forties, Lincoln isolated two such strains of pathogens and with various diseases achieved a successful cure rate by using certain viruses (bacteriophages) against them. One cured cancer patient was the son of Sen. Charles Tobey, who spread the word about Lincoln’s therapy.

In 1952, after Lincoln was expelled from the Massachusetts Medical Society, Senator Tobey became so incensed that he presented the particulars to Congress: (1) in 1946 the Journal of the American Medical Association rejected Lincoln’s paper on clinical results with his ‘antibiotics”; (2) in 1948 the same paper was rejected by the New England Journal of Medicine; (3) in 1948 the director of a large Boston hospital was “unable to find the time” to review Lincoln’s work, after being invited to do so; and (4) Lincoln’s requests for assistance in publication were ignored by science editors.

So basically, Lincoln used bacteriophages (viruses that attack bacteria that today are commonly used to genetically engineer bacteria) to lyse Staphylococcus aureus. These lysates were either injected subcutaneously, applied intranasally, or administered orally or applied topically. The claim was that these lysates would somehow boost the “defensive mechanisms” of the body, particularly if “ubiquitous staph infection is a complication.” Unfortunately, the investigation of the Massachusetts Medical Society was quite thorough and concluded that there was no scientifically valid or convincing evidence presented that the phage lysates impacted the biology of cancer in any way. No wonder Null liked it.

Of course, the greatest evidence that the ACS was “suppressing” alternative “cancer cures” to Null was the existence of something that I really wish were still in existence today: The ACS list of unproven methods:

The unproven-methods list is in effect a blacklist of remedies that include some of the most promising methods for the control of cancer in the world today, among them many dietary and nutritional programs. Once a treatment gets on the list, it becomes virtually impossible for any of its proponents to continue their research. Grants dry up; doors to publications are closed. The unproven-methods list can be compared to the index of heresy in the Catholic Church in medieval times. It is a fast and efficient way of dealing with new remedies without the fuss and bother of “trials.”

Yes, indeed. Some tropes have been around forever, seemingly, and that applies to the “science is a religion” trope that is trotted out whenever professional societies try to uphold scientific standards against quackery. In fact, these days, the ACS appears not to maintain the dreaded list anymore and even has a “complementary and alternative medicine” section on its website. Maybe it’s a good idea not to segregate treatments into an entire category for “unproven” therapies and just list them in another way but say the same thing about therapies that are, in fact, unproven. I don’t know. But Null sure didn’t like it; so it couldn’t have been all bad.

Stanislaw Burzynski: The Early Years

Part II of the Null trilogy was written by Gary Null only and entitled The Suppression of Cancer Cures, lest you have any misconception where Null is coming from. Although other “brave maverick doctors” were mentioned in it, the article was primarily about Stanislaw Burzynski. In a way, I like to call this article, which is the shortest of the bunch, “Burzynski: The Early Years.” Although at the time the article was published Burzynski had isolated antineoplastons from urine, he hadn’t yet found a way to chemically synthesize them, mainly (apparently) because he hadn’t fully chemically characterized them yet. This meant that he actually was isolating them from gallons and gallons of human urine, all in order to do his experiments and, unfortunately, treat patients, which led to a hilarious analogy from Null:

Although antineoplastons are found in all normal body tissues and fluids, they are most easily extracted from urine. They appear to “normalize” cancer cells without inhibiting the growth of normal cells. Actually, urine therapy has been used as a folk remedy for cancer and other ailments for over 2,000 years. Even within the past 30 years, at least 45.000 injections of urine or urine extract were given in the United States and throughout Europe without any toxic side effects.

I’m guessing that Dr. Burzynski wasn’t too thrilled with that passage. To this day, he gets pretty irate when people refer to antineoplastons as coming from urine, being quick to correct them and tell them that he synthesizes them in a laboratory now. For an example, scroll down to question #3 in Eric Merola’s FAQ about Burzynski and Merola’s movie.

The real point of this article, however, is here:

The list of scientists who have been harassed includes names like Durovic, Ivy, Koch, Lincoln, Gerson—names that are, probably unknown to most people. But they can be compared with such innovators in science as Galileo, Pasteur, Semmelweis, and Jenner, all of whom were practically destroyed in their time by various powerful organizations, such as the Church and the medical establishment.

Today this kind of suppression is reserved not for astronomy, ecology, antisepsis, or vaccinations, but for the most steadily increasing and least understood disease of our time—cancer. The suppression of valuable treatments is the cancer blackout.

And so begins the narrative about Stanislaw Burzynski supposedly having a cure for cancer (or at least some cancers) that is being “suppressed” by mainstream oncology because…well, it’s never quite clear why: Because it interferes with profits; because it’s against the dogma of the time; because doctors and scientists apparently just can’t stand something that’s outside of the mainstream. The reasons why mainstream oncology would want to suppress these alleged cures are ever-morphing, seemingly into endless variants, depending upon the needs of the myth builder of the time spinning the yarn of a Great Man (or Woman) whose work is unappreciated by mere peons, who are either too unimaginative to understand or too threatened by the work ever to accept it. When you come right down to it, it’s not unlike Ayn Rand, and, in fact, reading this article by Null about Burzynski I couldn’t help but shake the image of Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, a man who invented Rearden Metal, the best alloy in the world, and as a result had his competitors plotting against him and spreading lies about its danger. Or maybe he’s John Galt. Whatever. There is the attitude that somehow Stanislaw Burzynski is a Great Man being persecuted by fleas who fear his genius and want to mooch off of it. Null plays up this narrative.

For instance, Burzynski left Communist Poland in the late 1960s, as so many young Polish scientists did. The reason, it is implied, was because he was so much better than that, although it’s not particularly surprising that a man with few opportunities to pursue his dreams in Soviet-controlled Poland would yearn for the freedom of the West. In any case, Burzynski arrived in Houston and secured a job as a Research Associate at the Baylor College of Medicine, which is higher than a technician but not usually a faculty position. Generally, it’s the sort of position that PhDs who are either ineligible for a postdoctoral position or don’t qualify for a tenure-track position take doing research in someone else’s laboratory. He then managed to score an assistant professor position at Baylor, which is good. Clearly, he showed enough promise to compete for and obtain the position. He was even funded by the NCI from 1974 to 1977. According to this article, Burzynski got an NCI grant from 1974 to 1976 to fund his research involving gel filtration techniques to isolate peptides from urine and for testing their ability to inhibit in vitro growth of several types of cultured human cells. Ironically, as Null quotes Burzynski as saying, the NCI actually did fund Burzynski’s discovery of antineoplastons to some extent.

Unfortunately, when Burzynski applied to renew his grant in 1976, he apparently failed, although his funding continued until 1977. Not so coincidentally (to me, at least) 1977 was also the year that Burzynski left Baylor to form his own research institute. I can probably guess what happened. He failed to renew his grant; so he was probably told he would have to shut down his lab and either start seeing patients full time to support his position or find a job in someone else’s lab. Given that he had been there for five years, a common time after which medical researchers go up for tenure, he might have even failed to win tenure and been told to find another position. Whatever happened at Baylor, combine his failure to renew his grant with his being faculty in the Department of Anesthesiology, and what happened next doesn’t seem quite as conspiratorial as Null makes it sound:

Dr. Burzynski presented his startling results to the annual meeting of the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. When he met with enthusiastic responses, he knew then that it was time to begin human research.

However, soon after this Dr. Burzynski’s funding was decreased: then it was discontinued. His work was channeled into other areas of research, and his superiors discouraged his pursuit of cancer therapy. He couldn’t know at this time that this was only the beginning of his long battle with the medical establishment. Determined to continue, Dr. Burzynski struck out on his own and leased a 2,500-square-foot garage space in Houston, which he turned into an impressive private lab and office despite warnings that the medical establishment would challenge his activities.

Or, it could have been that Burzynski failed to renew his grant, and his Chair, being a Chair of a department of anesthesia and all, didn’t see the point in his continuing to do cancer research, which is more appropriately carried out in an oncology department, biochemistry department, or pharmacology department. Somehow, I doubt that there was any sort of grand conspiracy by The Man to keep Burzynski down. Whatever happened at Baylor, clearly there was some sort of a falling-out between Burzynski and the administration of the department of anesthesia, whether it was from his lack of grant funding or other conflicts. However, Burzynski used what happened to his advantage to construct the myth of the Great Man whose vision forced him to leave to pursue his scientific dream. Perhaps there was a grain of truth to that at the time he left, but over time in retrospect, now that we know what happened and how Burzynski turned out, it’s harder for an objective observer to accept that narrative. After all, why would a department of anesthesia support cancer chemotherapy research—which, let’s face it, Burzynski was doing—particularly if the investigator was losing his NIH funding? My guess, which could be wrong, is that Burzynski chewed through his startup funds between 1972 and 1974, parlaying them into an NIH grant, but was unable to keep the momentum going and renew that grant. Probably his department put up with him because he had achieved NIH funding and every department in a medical school loves an investigator with NIH funding, but was less enthusiastic about it when he lost that funding. In any case, the 1970s were a critical period in the development of the myth that is Burzynski. I’d love to know what really happened in the years leading up to 1977 that led to his leaving Baylor. All we get now are stories designed to make Burzynski look like a “brave maverick doctor” and a scientist on par with Galileo.

That myth-making and legend-building clearly had begun before Null wrote his article, the rest of which follows a script that was new back in 1979 but has become old and tiresome now. Any time anyone or any professional organization investigates Burzynski for unethical conduct, in this case administering his antineoplastons to patients even though (1) they were not approved drugs, (2) he hadn’t done any tests in animal tumor models yet, and (3) he wasn’t doing proper clinical trials, all of which were indications for an investigation, it couldn’t possibly have been because there were legitimate concerns about his activities. Oh, no. To Burzynski and his supporters like Null, it was (and still is) because the medical establishment was closing ranks to suppress a promising new cancer therapy.

Let’s compare and contrast to my situation. (Why not?) When I fail to get a grant or to renew one that I’ve had before, I view it as being because funding has tightened up (which it has), making what was good enough a few years ago no longer good enough, and/or because that time around I just didn’t do a good enough job convincing the reviewers. In other words, I view failure to be funded as being either my failing and/or due to circumstances not directed at me personally (e.g., the really crappy NIH funding situation right now). That wasn’t, however, how Burzynski thought. If he didn’t get a grant, it was obviously because the NCI was plotting against him. If his department discouraged him from pursuing antineoplaston research, it couldn’t possibly have been because Burzynski was losing his NIH funding and was not doing the sort of research that a department of anesthesia would generally take an interest in. Oh, no. It had to be because his department was trying to suppress his work as well, possibly because the government was putting pressure on it. When the AACR doesn’t accept my abstract for its annual meeting, I don’t blame the AACR; I ask myself what I could have done better and try again. Not Burzynski. If his abstract wasn’t accepted, it must have been part of a conspiracy by the “cancer establishment” to suppress his work, just as when Eric Merola recently related the story of Burzynski’s recent attempt to publish in The Lancet being rejected rapidly he not-so-subtly suggested that it must be either groupthink or a conspiracy among journal editors.

In this, Eric Merola is following a well-established script that was developed 30 years before his first movie. His “innovation” (if you can call it that) is to add The Skeptics™ as a new enemy keeping The Great Man down and trying to keep cancer patients from being cured of their cancers.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The third installment of Gary Null’s 1979 trilogy of woo was co-written by Anne Pitrone and entitled Alternative Cancer Therapies. It was basically a tour of cancer quackery, circa 1979, combined with—you guessed it!—more conspiracy mongering about suppression of cancer cures and a lot of excuses, such as this:

Many of the clinics where we interviewed are understaffed or don’t have the funds to do important statistical analysis and follow-up of patients that would provide the general public, as well as the scientific community, with some idea of the results they’re getting. Many are so new that the statistics have limited meaning. Records of patient response are sometimes sketchy because of the nature of the treatment, which often involves the patient’s taking responsibility for a complete change of life-style as well as self-medication. Sometimes it is impossible for these clinics and doctors to get proper testing and/or cooperation with the medical community, although this has been changing dramatically as more positive research to support the alternative therapies has been discovered.

Part of the problem in analyzing statistics is that there is no single standard for measuring “positive results” in cancer. For example, when a doctor says he’s getting good results, does it mean that he’s getting objective (measurable) responses, such as tumor stabilization or regression? Or does he mean that he is getting subjective improvements, such as increased appetite, elimination of cachexia (wasting away), overall well-being, or elimination of pain? For some doctors “positive results” means simply that the patient dies in one month rather than in two weeks.

Regrettably, there is an element of vagueness in today’s alternative-therapy network not only because of the nature of the disease (cancer is not limited to one type, organ, or system) and the nature of the treatment (which is often self-administered), but also because there is a lack of long-term statistical observation. There are few doctors that have been able to keep statistically thorough records over a five- or ten-year period. Most clinics have at least some strong subjective results to report.

Null even conceded that, because of this lack of outcomes data, it would be “unwise” to “throw out conventional therapy altogether.”

More than 33 years later, nothing has changed. The same three self-excusing paragraphs could be written by Gary Null, Joe Mercola, Mike Adams, Julian Whitaker, Suzanne Somers, or any of the many apologists for and promoters of “alternative cancer cures” and published in a book or on a website today. Basically, there is no statistical evidence, because alternative cancer clinics are not about rigorous science and tracking of patient outcomes. They are about belief, standing against conventional cancer therapy, and magical thinking.

After that passage laying the groundwork for excuses as to why “alternative cancer clinics” can’t prove that what they do actually helps cancer patients or could do any better than what “conventional” cancer therapy could do at the time, Null then took Penthouse readers on a tour of cancer quackery: Gerson therapy, Linus Pauling’s high dose vitamin C, other high dose vitamin regimens, chelation therapy (yes, chelation therapy for cancer) and, of course Laetrile. The sad thing is, most of these treatments (if you can call them that) are still around and still being used by quacks, just in different combinations. For instance, I could easily find clinics for which a description like this would still apply:

“The main problem is that people wait until it’s too late, and then they want to take Laetrile and expect it to be a miracle for them,” said Dr. Robert Gibson of Ponca City, Okla. Basically using Laetrile in conjunction with a salt-free, high-fiber, and high-vegetable diet very similar to Dr. Gerson’s, Dr. Gibson also makes use of vitamins A, C, and E and enzymes. Formerly involved in a large general practice, Dr. Gibson has treated more than 2,000 cancer patients over the last three years, many of whom have “waited too long.” “For the very ill,” said Dr. Gibson, “we can relieve the pain with Laetrile and the diet and many times extend their lives beyond the expected survival; actually, the use of Laetrile is a little bit unpredictable. But if the medication does work, we’ve been getting very good responses with many different tumors. And with those patients that are in better shape than ‘terminal’ over the past three years, I’d say we’ve been getting about sixty-eight percent positive results.” Dr. Gibson points out that this is not really an adequate statistic, since most data on recovery require a “five-year survival time.”

Ah, yes. The old “If only the patient hadn’t waited too long to come to me” gambit.

Just for the heck of it, I tried to see how many of the clinics mentioned by Null 33 years ago are still around. As you might expect, many of these 1970s-era promoters of “alternative cancer cures,” like Dr. Dean Burk, have since died. (One notes that Dr. Burk was also an anti-fluoridation crackpot who was known for saying that “fluoridation is a form of public mass murder.”) Dr. Ray Evers, a promoter of chelation therapy for everything, including cancer, apparently died in 1990, and his fellow quacks paid tribute to him in 1991. Dr. R. Glen Green was apparently inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2007 at age 84 but died in 2010. Nor is the Livingston Clinic still in operation, its not having been able to survive too many years after the death of its founder. In 2004, Dr. Jack Slingluff pled guilty to one count of introducing an unapproved new drug (Laetrile) into interstate commerce. The State Medical Board of Ohio suspended his medical license for a year and permanently revoked it in 2008, and he died in 2011. Similarly Dr. Emmanuel Revici died in the 1990s, but his clinic still exists and is still seeing patients.

In some cases, it’s not always clear whether the clinic is still in operation. For instance, it isn’t clear whether the Gibson Clinic still exists in Ponca City, OK; if it does it doesn’t have a web presence, although it’s listed in Whale.to. It does, however, turn out that one of these “brave maverick doctors” featured by Null is apparently still practicing. I’m referring to Dr. Michael Schachter, who runs the Schacter Center for Complementary Medicine, where he treats cancer using a combination of chelation therapy, various nutritional interventions, detoxification, intravenous H2O2 and/or vitamin C, and other woo. His center’s website even includes a Quack Miranda warning right here.

Oh, and Stanislaw Burzynski, as we all know, is still practicing.

Sadly, however, even though the unavoidable ravages of time have taken their toll on the “brave maverick doctors” profiled in Null’s article, each and every dubious and unproven therapy espoused by them is still being practiced today by someone somewhere. No matter how often the stake of science is driven into their heart (or, if you prefer The Walking Dead, the arrow or katana of science is driven into their brains), they always rise again. What taking this little step back into a time when I was still in high school has shown me is that, as the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, as I like to say, there is nothing new under the sun, at least when it comes to “alternative cancer cures.” It’s kind of depressing to think that, not only has nothing really changed much in the last 33 years, but that, if anything, elements of what was once called quackery are more accepted than they were when Gary Null first published his trilogy of woo in Penthouse.

Posted in: Cancer, Health Fraud, History

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56 thoughts on ““Alternative” cancer cures in 1979: How little things have changed

  1. So Gorski is rummaging 30 year old Penthouse magazines now for Burzynski-bashing material.. leave no stone unturned.

  2. elburto says:

    FBA – Instead of resorting to mockery, why not explain why Burzynski deserves positive attention as opposed to negative attention?

    I’m sure your thoughts and theories are truly exceptional. They must be, especially if you’re so convinced that you can criticise a cancer surgeon/researcher who’s writing about Count Stan on his own turf.

    So c’mon, dish. Why is Dr Gorski wrong to criticise Scamley B?

  3. annappaa says:

    I didn’t know Old Man Guccione was into the quack cancer cures. I knew Bob Guccione, Jr., gave a lot of ink to Celia Farber, his AIDS denialist lady friend. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  4. David Gorski says:

    So Gorski is rummaging 30 year old Penthouse magazines now for Burzynski-bashing material.. leave no stone unturned.

    Yawn.

    Actually, I was rummaging around in the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library because a reader told me that there were some interesting old articles in there. That reader turned out to be right. It just so happened that the articles were published in Penthouse. There are a lot of interesting mentions of Burzynski in documents in that database.

    In any case, I was far more interested in what the “Null trilogy” reveals about the state of the “alternative cancer cure” industry back in 1979 than I was about what it revealed about Burzynski. That Burzynski featured prominently in one of the articles was just icing on the cake.

  5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    FastBuckArtist, you’re dropping your superficial open-mindedness too early. We’re not supposed to find out you’re a zealot for another couple weeks. And only after you show your true colours should you resort to ad hominen.

  6. Cancer patients 35 years ago had a worse success rate with conventional methods than they do today. If you are looking at a 10% survival rate using scientifically proven methods, laetrile starts to sound attractive.

    Actor Steve McQuinn chose to go to Mexico around this time to get unconventional treatment for cancer.. http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20077667,00.html

    It was some combo of Gerson and laetrile – with coffee enemas, 50 vitamins, pancreatic enzymes, natural shampoo, and injection of live cells from sheep fetus. It didnt work.

    The doc who was treating him lost his license, but his treatments live on and are still sold today as Dr Kelley’s metabolic formula, citing a 93% cure rate: http://www.cancertutor.com/Cancer/Metabolic.html

  7. elburto says:

    So?
    That doesn’t address your initial comment about Burzynski.

  8. @David Gorski In any case, I was far more interested in what the “Null trilogy” reveals about the state of the “alternative cancer cure” industry back in 1979

    And you found that nothing changed?
    The modern “alternative” cancer protocols seem to have gotten bolder in their claims..

    Here is a gentleman calling himself “worlds leading expert on cancer” who wrote a book reportedly selling 100’000 copies about curing cancer in several weeks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgbdNNfotwM

    Its mainly a glorified diet I think.

    For something more sophisticated, The Cellect Budwig protocol:
    http://www.cellectbudwig.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9&Itemid=16

  9. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Cancer patients 35 years ago had a worse success rate with conventional methods than they do today. If you are looking at a 10% survival rate using scientifically proven methods, laetrile starts to sound attractive.

    Except, as Dr. Gorski indicated, the cancer quacks back then (as now) didn’t keep stats and basically threw out positive-sounding numbers and worthless anecdotes that could keep them in the red (black? Making money, whichever that is). McQueen died, incidentally, despite pursuing nonsense. As so many who pursue nonsense do. Because it’s nonsense.

    The problem, then as now and one unchanged despite 30+ years, is that cancer quacks sell ineffective treatments and false hopes to the desperate, ensuring their “patients” (victims) spend their final days wasting time and considerable money that could be better applied elsewhere. No matter the effectiveness of their nostroms, their conduct is unethical. If their approach doesn’t work, then they’re wasting people’s time and money – both of which are precious at the end of your life. If their approaches actually work, actually cure cancer, it’s worse – by failing to demonstrate their approach works in the scientific literature, they are preventing it from becoming mainstream and thus helping the millions of people with cancer. Think about it – if Burzynski actually has a cure for cancer, he’s sitting on it. Instead of it being mainstream care in hundreds of clinics in the US alone, thousands world-wide, there is one. Just one. He’s no brave maverick doctor, he’s an unethical and greedy monster.

    And you found that nothing changed?
    The modern “alternative” cancer protocols seem to have gotten bolder in their claims..

    Did you miss the end of the article or something? Re-read the last sentence.

  10. BobbyG says:

    See http://www.bgladd.com/1in3

    15 years, still seems like yesterday. And, many of these clowns that I alluded to in that essay are still hawking their scams.

  11. elburto says:

    FBA – You need to go away and work on this persona. Take notes in Troll 101, stick to two or three characteristics and one solid viewpoint.

    You’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth and getting confused; “Stop picking on cancer quacks! Look at those terrible quacks!”. Surely you can do better?

  12. @williamlawrenceutridge Think about it – if Burzynski actually has a cure for cancer, he’s sitting on it. Instead of it being mainstream care in hundreds of clinics in the US alone, thousands world-wide, there is one. Just one. He’s no brave maverick doctor, he’s an unethical and greedy monster.

    I dont know Burzynski personally, but I have no doubt he genuinely believes in his therapies. Would he make a movie about it if he knew the therapy is rubbish? Would he invest money in the clinic? There is a lot at stake here – license to practice medicine, investment capital, reputation.

    The true fraudster, a quack who knows he’s a quack, has a different mode of operation. He uses really cheap remedies, and flies under the radar of authorities. The “snakeoil salesmen” were true frauds, they knew they were selling rubbish, went into town, made some noise for a week, then moved on before their fraud was exposed.

    There was one recent case where the cancer quack might have known she’s selling snakeoil but went ahead to kill the patient anyway – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdLOBRUwq10

  13. David Gorski says:

    Quite honestly, the “brave maverick” cancer doctors selling dubious “alternative cancer cures” are actually far more dangerous than the hucksters who know they are selling quackery. The true believers are that much more persuasive because they believe.

    One other thing I forgot to mention about Burzynski from that article that’s worth bringing up. His pattern of charging his patients huge sums of money had already been set all the way back in 1979. It points out that he charged $4,000 per month, which, factoring in inflation, would be something like $12,382 in today’s dollars (http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Calculators/Cumulative_Inflation_Calculator.aspx). That part of Burzynski’s repertoire was well-established very early on.

  14. Davdoodles says:

    “dont know Burzynski personally, but I have no doubt he genuinely believes in his therapies. Would he make a movie about it if he knew the therapy is rubbish? Would he invest money in the clinic? There is a lot at stake here – license to practice medicine, investment capital, reputation.”

    What difference does it make what he “believes”? Besides, if he really believes, why won’t he put his treatment to any conclusive test?

    “The true fraudster, a quack who knows he’s a quack, has a different mode of operation.”

    Not necessarily. Agreed, some fraudsters don’t care about their reputations (or only to the extent that it helps them keep on selling their piss-water for… erm… fast bucks), but some folk defraud because of the fawning adulation and notoriety they would otherwise not recieve, or be entitled to. The self-described “maverics”, “martyrs” and “Galileos”.

    Some, Andrew Wakefield for example, bear all the hallmarks of both types of fraudster, and none of an honest man.
    .

  15. @David Gorski Quite honestly, the “brave maverick” cancer doctors selling dubious “alternative cancer cures” are actually far more dangerous than the hucksters who know they are selling quackery.

    True but realistically how many cancer patients choose a quack as their first resort cancer treatment? 0.01%? They make headlines (especially here) but their harm to society is a rounding error.

    What I dont see is scrutiny of some dubious practices within mainstream oncology (the 99%).
    The Cancer Center for example, claims 20% higher survival rates over SEER for patients with breast cancer: http://www.cancercenter.com/assets/images/misc/breast-survival-v1.2.gif

    How did they get these spectacular results? By incorporating Naturopathic practices including Botanical, Hydrotherapy, Acupuncture and Homeopathy: http://www.cancercenter.com/breast-cancer/naturopathic-medicine.cfm

    and other interesting practices such as reiki (laying of hands) http://www.cancercenter.com/breast-cancer/mind-body-medicine.cfm

    This is a mainstream oncology practice, treating tens of thousands of patients, not small fry like Burzynski and Coldwell who treat a dozen of unfortunates.

  16. Narad says:

    Would he make a movie about it if he knew the therapy is rubbish?

    Careful, somebody might send you a C&D for talking like that.

  17. elburto says:

    FBA – Thanks for proving your knowledge on the subject, ie. nothing. You slagged off Dr Gorski for repeatedly writing about Burzynski, yet you’ve apparently never read one of those posts.

    1. Burzynski must know that ANPs do not work. If they did work he’d have reams of data to publish. Then there’s the fact that his patients keep dying. Doesn’t fit with my definition of “successful treatment”.

    2. ANPs are cheap. In pill form they cost a couple of dollars, but patients can only buy them from his pharmacy at huge markups.

    3. Charging for trial inclusion is hugely unethical in itself, but your “clinic running costs” spiel is off track too
    The first thing you need to know is that the “clinic” does not offer anything other than offices and waiting areas. Patients stay in local motels, medical procedures (Hickman line installation, blood tests, scans etc) are performed at local clinics and hospitals, and patients/parents pay extra cash out of pocket for them.

    Patients are asked to pay about $20k clinic fees upfront for initial consultation/training costs. They are led to believe that this covers an entire month of training and support at the “clinic”. However, from the moment they step through the doors every day the meter is running. Daily doctors rounds? $100. A nurse watching you draw your own child’s blood? $20 a time. Phone calls to the clinic? $95. Cotton balls, elastoplasts, gloves, even the IV bags that the stinking ANPs come in, $$$. Patients usually aren’t informed of this until they end their stay, medication is often held hostage until they pay. If they can’t pay? They’re cut off.

    4. If he believes it works, why is there a script? Why are patients told that there are no side effects, ANPs aren’t chemo, that neurological deterioration is a good sign that the tumour is dying? Over and over in virtually every case we see the same sh*t trotted out.

    6. Why has he told courts that he is never involved in patient treatment?

    7. Even if he’s a doddering, deluded old man who believes he’s saving the world, intent isn’t magic. If I run you over with my car then shouting “I didn’t see you, sorry!” won’t miraculously heal you, absolve you of medical costs, or alter the course of time.

    I refuse to even address the whole “Why would someone make a commercial for something that doesn’t work?” line. Hilarious.

    Court documents were filed over shady business practices and unpaid bills:

    josephinejones.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/burzynski-fought-the-law-part-ii/

    using patients as ATMs:

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/01/19/43165.htm

    The true cost of the training period:

    web.archive.org/liveweb/http://supatrascancerfight.blogspot.ie/2011/10/info-for-new-burzynski-patients.html

    The patients the Burzynskiites won’t tell you about. Many of the children featured still have active fundraising pages on Burzynski Patient Group webspace despite their deaths:

    theotherburzynskipatientgroup.wordpress.com/

    Try and read as many as you can. See if you notice a pattern. And you must read about little Luna, and watch the short BBC video clips of her following “treatment” by Burzynski :

    theotherburzynskipatientgroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/burzynski-luna-ps-story/

    Read, watch, then come back and tell us how Stan’s just a victim of a medical conspiracy, an old man who’s dedicated his life to curing cancer, persecuted by Big Pharma and misunderstood.

  18. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    They make headlines (especially here) but their harm to society is a rounding error.

    So those people should die in horrible agony? I’d rather spend time and energy trying to prevent people from dying an ugly death, wasting their last days and dollars to enrich a greedy fraud who spins conspiracy theories rather than testing and abandoning (or popularizing) his drugs. And you either missed, or didn’t understand my point about how he’s unethical either way. In fact, it’s worse if antineoplastons are an effective treatment, because that greedy shit is not sharing them with the world. Instead he’s charging patients thousands of dollars for a cheap treatment that, if effective, could save many lives. No, Burzynski is a shit, a greedy little contemptible shit, parasitic on science in the worst way. The fact that you defend him in any way says considerable amounts about you (mostly that you’re a troll or staggeringly ignorant or have, like so many CAM-pushers, drunk the kool-aid and think that if you can find a flaw in real medicine, your preferred form of woo – apparently homeopathy – will somehow start working).

    How did they get these spectacular results? By incorporating Naturopathic practices including Botanical, Hydrotherapy, Acupuncture and Homeopathy

    They claim their cure rates are better, it’d be interesting if they were right. Even more interesting would be if they were right because of what you claim increases their success rate. Note that they don’t actually claim that naturopathic crap cures cancer, they mostly soft-pedal it as a form of symptom relief. It’s more likely they are simply an expensive cancer clinic that will keep throwing chemo at stuff as long as the patient has money. The virtue they bring is that they use a lot of science-based treatments. Unfortunately, they tack on a lot of expensive and unnecessary, unproven nonsense as they do so. See Dr. Gorski’s post.

  19. Chirez says:

    Incidentally, the phrase is ‘nihil novi sub sole’ and it first appears in the Vulgate.

    This post brought to you by google and smugness. :)

  20. goodnightirene says:

    @FBA

    The example you cite (Cancer Center) is exactly where the harm is. The more that quack ideas are accepted or even shrugged off, the easier it is for quacks (true believers or outright hucksters, no matter) to push “integrative” medicine.

    I think if you study their website carefully, you will see that they don’t actually make outright claims of longer survival times, but you have to follow the link for each type of cancer and do a fair amount of reading to be clear about that. Rather, they rely on masses of testimonials and capitalize on people’s preconceived notion that the woo treatments “complement” their chemo in a “positive” and “healing” way. It looks to me as though they purposely obfuscate the statistics and market it all in a package that appeals to their target, so whether or not it’s intentional fraud, or if they “mean well”, what difference does it make?

  21. @elburrito The patients the Burzynskiites won’t tell you about. Many of the children featured still have active fundraising pages on Burzynski Patient Group webspace despite their deaths:
    theotherburzynskipatientgroup.wordpress.com

    I had a look at the website. The patients were all terminal cases before arriving at Burzynski clinic. There are many children there with inoperable brain cancers like diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a death sentence. Adults with pancreatic cancer or stage 4 breast cancers. None of them chose Burzynski as first resort. They arrived there after conventional oncology told them get ready to die, the only thing we can offer you is palliative care.

    I havent read a case yet where it was the antineoplaston treatment that doomed the patient. Point out one if I missed any.

  22. @williamlawrenceutridge No, Burzynski is a shit, a greedy little contemptible shit, parasitic on science in the worst way. The fact that you defend him in any way says considerable amounts about you

    I am NOT defending Dr B. I dont think his treatment works any better than standard chemo. His operation is milking charities, fundraisers for large fees and giving hope to parents of sick children where there is none, and that aint right.

    What I am saying is, the closure of his clinic will have no impact on cancer deaths or have any measurable impact on public health. People who arrive for his treatment are already doomed.

  23. weing says:

    “They arrived there after conventional oncology told them get ready to die, the only thing we can offer you is palliative care.
    I havent read a case yet where it was the antineoplaston treatment that doomed the patient. Point out one if I missed any.”

    So, you would prefer that conventional oncology lie to them? It’s OK to offer them something that doesn’t work, like homeopathy and antineoplastons, strip them and their families of their money in the process, and get rich.

  24. elburto says:

    @FBA – It’s a matter of record that Count Scamley’s “trials” were only open to those who had exhausted conventional options.

    DIPG and Astrocytoma cases are his specialty, the ones he claims he can cure. Funny then, that they’re all dead. Funny that every single rise in intracranial pressure is heralded as a sign that “the tumour is breaking up”. Funny how their deaths are omitted from the official BPG site.

    The adult patients with other cancers aren’t treated with infusions of ANPs, that’s just how they’re lured to the clinic. They’re typically patients who have been indoctrinated into the belief that oncologists are money hungry charlatans who just “cut, poison and burn”.

    They arrive at the clinic eager to try this “non-toxic natural treatment”, and after examination are told “Sorry, you don’t qualify for the trial. However, Dr B can treat you with his gene-targeted therapy”.

    Said therapy, as we know, being apparently randomly chosen conventional chemotherapeutic agents administered concurrently or in rotation, for various periods of time.

    Said agents are only available through Burzynski’s pharmacy, at enormous cost, when the patient could have accessed conventional chemo in a hospital, in proper conditions and with medical support, that would have been covered by any insurance they might have.

    He’s not an oncologist, yes he’s messing about with cocktails of chemo. Would you let a dentist prescribe you antipsychotics? Would you allow a dermatologist to pull your teeth?

    Troll harder. Every point made by defenders of Dr Burykidski can be refuted by those who share a passion for the science behind healthcare, and who have the capacity for rational thought. You’re not the first person to foolishly see him as a pioneer, you won’t be the last.

  25. @David Gorski

    I went through the patient stories and kept a tally of what conditions they entered Burzynski clinic with:

    - Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma : 14 cases
    - Glioblastoma Multiforme : 6 cases including Merola’s cousin
    - Pancreatic Cancer x2
    - Metastatic Melanoma spread to liver and spleen x1
    - Stage 4 Breast Cancer with spread to liver and spine x4
    - Anaplastic Astrocytoma x5
    - LMS with spread to lung and bones x1
    - Pineoblastoma x1
    - AT/RT x1
    - Stage 4 Lung Cancer with spread to brain x1

    If Burzynski cured even ONE of these patients, he should be on 60 Minutes or Dr Oz show, cause these people have less than 12 months to live with best care. If you disagree, please point which patient you could have cured with a different treatment.

    @weing

    It’s important for relatives of the terminal patient to have closure, the knowledge they’ve done everything they could. If they want to try homeopathy, and you stop them, they’ll be blaming themselves afterwards for the death.

  26. @David Gorski
    I read your success stories article where you looked at Hannah Bradley. one of patients, who is obviously losing cognitive ability in the videoblogs. She’s got an aggressive grade 3 anaplastic astrocytoma, and the other patient you looked at had Oligodendroglioma which progressed to glioblastoma.

    They both have 1 or 2 years to live, what treatment are you suggesting that has the slimmest (10%+) hope of a cure? If you have one, I’ll join the Burzynski-bashing team.

  27. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    If Burzynski cured even ONE of these patients

    And that’s kinda the rub, isn’t it? Nobody has any idea how many patients that contemptible shit has “cured” because he keeps no record, publishes no research and has the ethics of Kevin Trudeau. Burzynski may claim to have cured patients, but assuming any of his patients actually survive, there’s no way of attributing this to any intervention. Again, horribly unethical no matter the effectiveness of his piss therapy.

  28. Scott says:

    They both have 1 or 2 years to live, what treatment are you suggesting that has the slimmest (10%+) hope of a cure? If you have one, I’ll join the Burzynski-bashing team.

    Flip that thought around – Burzynski’s garbage has even LESS chance of a cure, by all the available evidence. Why not suggest that they start dancing counterclockwise around a tree at midnight of the full moon? Conventional medicine can’t cure them, so that’s an equally reasonable alternative, right?

    Just because A is not as good as we want it to be DOES NOT in ANY way mean that B is better!

  29. David Gorski says:

    Nobody has any idea how many patients that contemptible shit has “cured” because he keeps no record, publishes no research and has the ethics of Kevin Trudeau. Burzynski may claim to have cured patients, but assuming any of his patients actually survive, there’s no way of attributing this to any intervention.

    Precisely. And whenever anyone has tried to figure out what Burzynski’s actual response and/or survival rates are, invariably he either can’t or finds that they are no better than conventional therapy, at least within constraints of the limited information Burzynski releases. Add to that the evidence showing that there are occasional long-term survivors of these tumors (they are rare, but they exist), and it’s impossible to say whether what Burzynski does produces any better response rates or survival rates than current standard of care. Most likely they are no different or even worse.

  30. Guy Chapman says:

    Thank you for reminding me of that archive, it truly is the motherlode for the history of astroturfing. I am wading through the references to Max Gerson even as I write.

    Would it be very wrong to make a whimsical aside that the late 70s were a more innocent age in – ahem – gentlemens’ reading matter? Not an implant in sight, and whatever happened to pubic hair? Mea culpa, those were the days when a copy of Penthouse found in the woods was treasure trove for the teenaged me. Another innocent pleasure of which the internet has robbed us…

  31. Guy Chapman says:

    @Scott: “Just because A is not as good as we want it to be DOES NOT in ANY way mean that B is better!”

    Or, as I tend to put it: issues with medicine validate in precisel the way plane crashes validate magic carpets.

  32. Narad says:

    Mea culpa, those were the days when a copy of Penthouse found in the woods was treasure trove for the teenaged me.

    I still consider Oui to have been the pinnacle of its generation. And, yes, this is because of a stash found under a willow tree.

  33. David Gorski says:

    Would it be very wrong to make a whimsical aside that the late 70s were a more innocent age in – ahem – gentlemens’ reading matter? Not an implant in sight, and whatever happened to pubic hair? Mea culpa, those were the days when a copy of Penthouse found in the woods was treasure trove for the teenaged me. Another innocent pleasure of which the internet has robbed us…

    Indeed. The Internet has robbed today’s generation of teenaged boys the character-building experience of trying to pass for 18 while purchasing a Playboy or Penthouse or other—ahem—”adult” magazine at the local 7/11 (or judge which cashiers just didn’t care and would sell to you anyway). Not that I’d know anything about that, of course. I heard it from my friends…

  34. @DavidGorski: testimonials used by Burzynski are not as convincing when looked at dispassionately

    I spent some time today doing this (examining the testimonials), and here are the results of my search. I only include testimonials that can be confirmed with sources outside Burzynski sites, either through patients facebook or blog, or local newspaper:

    Braiden N : diagnosed 2006. latest update 2012 (his website) – tumor still present but not growing
    Dustin K: diagnosed 1995 .. completely cured, latest update in 2012 (local newspaper)
    Evan R: grade 2 astrocytoma 1999.. completely cured, last update 2013 (twitter)
    Jared W: diagnosed 2004.. cured, last update 2012 (his blog)
    Jason M: diagnosed 1994 .. cured, last update 2011 (local church news)
    Jessica R: diagnosed at 11… reported alive and well at 24, featured in the movie.
    Jodi F: diagnosed in 2000.. alive and well in 2012, featured in the movie
    Laura H: diagnosed 2009.. no traces of tumor found in MRI scan Nov 2012 (source facebook)
    Mary B: diagnosed 2006.. cured, last update 2013 (her blog)
    Pam W: alive and well 11 years after treatment (ny times)
    Paul M: diagnosed 1985, cured, last update 2008
    Shontelle H: diagnosed 1993, doing well 2012 (patients website)
    Sophia G: diagnosed 1998, cured last update 2012 (blog)
    Tori M: diagnosed 1998, cured last update 2013

    No followup info outside B website on 25 of the testimonials.
    5 patients I found to have died after the testimonial was written.

    The 15 people who are confirmed success stories are amazing. Even 1 would be incredible. People who were given 1-5% chance of survival after 5 years by conventional oncology. And what treatment exactly would you have offered them instead of the ANPs?

    OK sorry for the interruption, you can all return to Penthouse magazine now :)

  35. Narad says:

    The 15 people who are confirmed success stories are amazing.

    What’s the denominator, again?

  36. elburto says:

    Those 15 people will almost certainly have undergone chemo and/or radiation as well. But hey, let’s just ignore that shall we? After all, it doesn’t prop up Burzynski’s delusions.

    If you’d read Dr Gorski’s posts you’d know that spontaneous remission is more common than you’d think, that many of his “cured patients” do not have evidence of an official diagnosis of cancer, or that medical records heralded as proof of dx (in the first feature-length commercial) have been incorrectly portrayed to the audience. There are articles breaking some of these “cures” down on Josephine Jones’ master list.

    Finally, and completely true to form, you’re coming at the Hannah Bradley case arse-backwards. Yes, survival time for her type of tumour is short, we already know that. However, she’s lauded as a success by the Burzynskiites, and it’s clear that she thought she’d been cured or, at the very least, received a few extra years added onto her lifespan,

    Instead it seems like she’s not only (and very sadly) following the typical path for someone with her diagnosis, but that she’s been conned out of £100,000+ and a huge chunk of her precious time and energy in the process.

    That’s not the worst insult though, that comes in the form of the false hope given to her by idiots and shills promoting the bastard Burzynski. By people like you who say “Ahh but look at these people, they’re cured!”, with no proof that the piss-poor protocol had anything to do with it, and while ignoring the hundreds (thousands?) of dead children and adults who’d been cruelly lured to his “clinic” by false hope and the fantasies of a megalomaniacal quack

    Like Narad said, what’s the denominator to those 14 people, those biennial “success” stories? What are the odds that they’d be alive anyway, sans Burzynski?

  37. @Narad What’s the denominator, again?

    Good question. In his clinical trials the numbers of patients he was able to recruit are very small, just 10 patients for the 1999 trial.

    Only the clinic knows exact numbers but adding up the success stories, failure stories and the trials patients, we get less than 80 total. Double that to account for all the silent patients we know nothing about.

    1. According to his website, he has treated over 8000. At least one patient discovered (claims) that they were being prescribed conventional chemotherapy drugs at a massive profit margin. Also, I am not sure that when he “treats” a patient that he exclusively uses his own proprietary drugs. If out of 8000 people he has 80 “cures” this is only 1% and this would actually be below the average for conventional treatments.

      This is the hallmark of a scam, if you can give a scam any kind of credibility it will be a success. Taking credit for the success of other drugs is some what brilliant.

      I once saw a commercial on a christian network about silver water. Along the bottom of the screen it listed all the things it could help with which was pretty much everything including age. Your view is that these people had no other choice, and this does no damage. I disagree. Not only do these types of scams drain people of money, they provide false hope. I am sure no one wants to talk about his patients that died and left their children with massive medical bills.

  38. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Burzynski doesn’t run clinical trials. Clinical trials are systematic, methodical investigations that end and report results. Burzynski is barred from practicing medicine in Texas. He is abusing the “clinical trials” loophole to continue enriching himself on the back of desperate, dying people.

    Calling them clinical trials does not make them clinical trials, and sadly the Texas Medical Board hasn’t recognized this yet. Again more evidence that Burzynski is an unethical shit who cares more about making money than he does about curing people.

  39. windriven says:

    “The 15 people who are confirmed success stories are amazing.”

    Huh? Again, what is the denominator – not what you guess it might be – what, in fact, is it? There have always been outliers whose tumors spontaneously disappear and others whose disease stalls. Hurray for them! But you can’t confuse those with patients who respond to a given therapy.

    Repeat after me: correlation does not demonstrate causation.

  40. David Gorski says:

    FBA does know, doesn’t he, that I’ve analyzed some of those testimonials. Indeed, I just did Tori M.’s story a couple of weeks ago:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/dr-stanislaw-burzynskis-cancer-success-stories-part-2/

    And some of those stories were covered in my original review of the first Burzynski movie:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/stanislaw-burzynski-bad-medicine-a-bad-movie/

    And some more of those stories were covered earlier this year:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/stanislaw-burzynskis-cancer-success-stories/

    As I said, many of these stories are not quite as convincing when looked at carefully by someone who knows something about cancer.

  41. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    To get a sense of the denominator, we can go to clinicaltrials.gov and search for Burzynski. 62 trials come up. Clicking on the first result brings up this page, with an estimated enrollment of 40 people. The next couple give either 20-40 patients, usually 40, though some give no information. Let’s assume 50 trials are run, and they get 40 each. That’s 2,000 people. We have 15 “positive” anecdotes. So that’s a success rate of 0.75%. The actual numbers could be as high as 2,500 or as low as 1,200, which gives a “best case” survival rate of 1.2%.

    Of course, this is about as good a research study as one done by Burzynski himself, the contemptible shit, basically throwing up some assumptions and handwaving. Were I Burzynski’s opposite, I’d proclaim his treatment an unmitigated failure since his survival rates are so low.

    And that’s why you don’t use fucking anecdotes to do science.

    Also of amusing interest, in the sense that disgusted wonder at another’s incompetence can be amusing, he started a trial in 1999 that was designed to evaluate the effects of piss extracts on prostate cancer patients. It accepted both men and women.

    How can anyone defend such a contemptible shit?

  42. @WLU To get a sense of the denominator, we can go to clinicaltrials.gov and search for Burzynski. 62 trials come up.

    I didnt see those trials, cause I searched on google scholar instead. So the silent majority is much larger than I thought. Did he really treat thousands of patients? This must be quite a profitable business with the treatment costs at $100k per year. There was one patient who somehow convinced the insurance to pay Burzynski’s bills and they ran into $1 million dollar ceiling as some point.

    So I imagine you will not be contributing to Alina’s fundraiser to get treated at the Burzynski clinic? http://bit.ly/Yr7vm0

  43. Artour says:

    But there is one therapy that achieved a stunning success in treatment of cancer. In a published clinical trial (Oncology, Ukraine), a group of people practicing breathing exercises (for about 2 hours every day) had nearly 6 times less mortality for metastatic cancer in 3-year time. This group was using the legendary Buteyko breathing method:
    http://www.normalbreathing.com/buteyko-method.php
    to slow down heavy breathing that was discovered in each study that measured breathing rates, or frequency or CO2 levels in the expired air of people with cancer.
    Note that over 90% of cancer patients believe that breathing more air is good, while thousands of clinical studies found the opposite result.
    One can also look at the Amazon book “Doctors Who Cure Cancer” about more details.

  44. Chris says:

    Go away clueless spammer.

  45. Artour says:

    That is right. A published controlled clinical trial: nearly 6 times higher survival rates in patients with metastatic breast cancer in 3-year time. Source:
    Unrainian goverment website (with abstract of the study)
    http://dspace.nbuv.gov.ua/handle/123456789/33146
    S. N. Paschenko, Zaporozhsky State Institute of Further Medical Education, Zaporozhie, Ukraine
    Oncology (Kiev, Ukraine), 2001, v. 3, No.1, p. 77-78
    Abstract. It was established that elimination of hyperventilation and hypocapnia in patients with breast cancer (T1-2N1M0) after the completion of the special treatment led to increased three-year survival rate, better quality of life, including released fear of unfavorable outcomes of the treatment, improved working ability, easier social adaptation and relief of edema of upper extremities.
    And the full PDF file (in Russian) in the Oncology Journal:
    http://www.oncology.kiev.ua/pdf/9/9_53.pdf
    Did someone said that ignorance is a bliss?

  46. Narad says:

    That is right. A published controlled clinical trial

    That’s a page and a half long? It’s been 12 years; where’s the follow-up?

    Sadly, my Russian isn’t up to snuff, and the non-Unicode encoding on the PDF stands in the way of so much as machine translation, but this doesn’t look promising.

  47. Artour says:

    You can find my translation of the whole cancer study:
    S. N. Paschenko, Zaporozhsky State Institute of Further Medical Education, Zaporozhie, Ukraine
    Oncology (Kiev, Ukraine), 2001, v. 3, No.1, p. 77-78
    STUDY OF APPLICATION OF THE REDUCED BREATHING METHOD IN A COMBINED TREATMENT OF BREAST CANCER
    on this page:
    http://www.normalbreathing.com/breakthrough-breast-cancer-research-and-treatment.php
    There are pages on the same site that provide a detailed review of various specifics related to this cancer trial.

  48. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Spamtour, do you get money when people click on the link, or only when you sell a book?

    Personally, I like my research and treatments to come from the last decade, but I’m a pessimist. You can stick with your decade-old, Russian-only treatments, thanks.

  49. mdcatdad says:

    What the quack conspiracy theorist fail to explain is, if doctors are “suppressing” information about alternative cancer cures, why do doctors and members of their families continue to die of cancer?

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