Dr. Frank Arguello’s “atavistic oncology”: Another dubious cancer therapy to be avoided

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Arguello has responded. See his response and my reply here.

Not infrequently, I’m asked why it is that I do what I do. Why do I spend so many hours of my free time, both here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog (NSSSOB), to write my detailed analyses of various forms of quackery, analyses of scientific studies, and expressions of my dismay at the infiltration of pseudoscience into medicine, particularly medical academia in a phenomenon I like to call “quackademic medicine”? One reason, of course, is because I passionately believe in what I am doing. Another reason is that I want information countering various forms of dubious medicine to be out there, and I have two well-trafficked blogs as a platform, although SBM long ago surpassed my NSSSOB in traffic and reach.

Over the last six years, there are some topics that I’ve written about many times, such as the antivaccine movement, Stanislaw Burzynski, cancer quackery, and common myths about cancer treatment. Surprisingly, there are some topics left that I should have written about a long time ago but haven’t, even though I had heard of them before. One such topic, atavistic oncology and chemotherapy, was brought to my attention a couple of weeks ago by a reader, who basically pointed me to a particular dubious bit of cancer treatment whose chief proponent, Dr. Frank Arguello, is apparently currently touring Canada to do conferences and meet with potential patients, placing ads in local newspapers in the cities in which he will be appearing. His meeting with patients in Canada seems particularly problematic, because his cancer practice is located in San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mexico, a location that, given the nature of his practice and claims, struck me as remarkable only because it’s not Tijuana. In any case, Dr. Arguello just appeared in Saskatoon on Friday and is scheduled to appear in Regina on July 30, with appearances in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto promised in the future, as well as U.S. appearances in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Specifically, after his appearance in Regina, advertised here:


“Helpfully,” Dr. Arguello points out that he will be staying in Regina on July 31 to “meet with patients,” no doubt to try to recruit them to come to his clinic in Mexico to be treated. One wonders if he could be nailed for practicing medicine without a Canadian license. Be that as it may, what, exactly, is Dr. Arguello’s “atavistic oncology”? It’s a post I’ve been meaning to do for probably years now; so now is as good a time as any. It’s also because the hypothesis that cancer represents an “atavism,” the reawakening of ancient genetic programs seen in our single-celled ancestors billions of years ago, pops up periodically and sounds plausible. Unfortunately, virtually every example of this hypothesis is riddled with misunderstandings of evolutionary biology that render the hypothesis at best highly implausible.

Warning signs of quackery in Dr. Arguello’s atavistic oncology

It is important to differentiate two aspects of “atavistic” oncology. First, there is the hypothesis that cancer represents “atavism,” a reversion to an ancient evolutionary pathway seen in single cell organisms and early multicellular organisms. As I will discuss later, this hypothesis is not well-supported by the evidence and, in fact, represents active misunderstanding of evolutionary biology. The second issue is, assuming it is an accurate hypothesis, what atavism implies for the actual treatment of cancer. In other words, even if atavism is true, would Dr. Arguello’s proposed treatment actually target it in such a manner as to result in better outcomes than existing treatments? In that area, Dr. Arguello fails even more astoundingly, as you will see.

The first thing I noticed when I perused Dr. Arguello’s website is that it demonstrates a number of the warning flags of quackery. For example, one notes a paucity of clinical trial data published in the peer-reviewed medical literature supporting the efficacy of his methods, but one does see a lot of testimonials. If one looks at Dr. Arguello’s CV and his LinkedIn page, you find a seemingly-impressive list of positions before he became the director of the Dr. Frank Arguello Cancer Clinic, Institute of Science and Genomic Medicine, including:

  1. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Division University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (1990-1994)
  2. Senior Investigator, Laboratory of Drug Discovery, Research and Development Division of Cancer Treatment, Developmental Therapeutics Program, National Cancer Institute- FCRDC (1994-2000)
  3. Section Head of Preclinical Research & Development, Department of Drug Discovery Institute of Research Cesare Serono S.P.A ., The Ares-Serono Group (2000-2001)

An examination of Dr. Arguello’s CV and PubMed record rapidly reveals that his last peer-reviewed publication was in 2002, and that it was a review article. His scientific output, which had been pretty decent between 1988 and 2000. In academia, we sometimes see this sort of thing in doctors who decide to leave academia and go into private practice, but in the case of doctors like Dr. Arguello, who suddenly “discover” The One True Cause of Cancer and how to treat it, it’s a red flag suggesting unproven medicine at best and quackery at worst. In this case, it wasn’t until 2013 that he founded his clinic. In the meantime, he was busy starting a biotech business.

There’s even an offer to face a “public challenge” by conventional oncologists to demonstrate the efficacy of his methods by treating a patient with stage IV breast cancer, with the following criteria:

  • The challenge will be advertised publically by the hosting institution (challenger), and communicated to the press, who shall monitor the results over time.
  • The patient must have stage IV breast cancer. Other cases can be treated as long as a stage IV breast cancer patient is included in the challenge.
  • The patient must have a Karnofsky Performance Scale above 80%, and documented evidence that she has not been exposed to conventional chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
  • A neutral, non-biased review committee will review the protocol and publish the results.
  • The challenging institution must cover all expenses for the patient(s), studies, medical honorariums, travel, etc., and must make all legal and regulatory arrangements for the study. Confidentiality agreements, disclaimers, etc., will be established.
  • The challenging institution must have strong medical and scientific recognition to render a verdict that will affect the criteria of the medical and scientific community.

He even issued a press release for his challenge!

Of course, this is not the way things are done, and Dr. Arguello’s challenge is much like Jock Doubleday’s vaccine challenge in that it’s constructed in such a way that it’s unlikely that anyone will ever accept it, certainly not a reputable academic cancer center. This is not a clinical trial, much less a randomized clinical trial. No IRB worth its salt would ever approve such a “challenge,” because it is also totally unethical to offer an experimental therapy to a patient who hasn’t received standard-of-care treatment yet, given that there do currently exist effective treatments that at least palliate stage IV breast cancer. That’s particularly true given that Dr. Arguello doesn’t present any compelling preclinical evidence in cell culture or animal models to support his treatment. It’s even more of a problem, given that Dr. Arguello doesn’t even reveal the drugs and treatments he uses. Yes, you read that right. In a section of his patient brochure entitled “Drugs Employed & Their Use”, Dr. Arguello writes that he uses various FDA-approved drugs “off-label” to treat cancer:

The drugs used in combination have been selected based on the principles of “Atavistic Metamorphosis” published by Dr. Arguello in 2011, and after years of testing them in hopeless cancer patients. They fall in the pharmaceutical group of anti-bacterial (antibiotics), anti-fungal and anti-protozoal (anti-parasitic) drugs. Anti-viral drugs have also a place within the principles of Atavistic Chemotherapy because viruses preceded cells in their origin, and they were the precursors of the first cells on this planet. However, costs and toxicity of antiviral drugs have forced us to use them only when other approaches fail.

Because of delays in obtaining patents, the actual names of the medicines given in Atavistic Chemotherapy are not revealed to the patient. All of the drugs employed have expired patents since being in the market for decades. However, we are in the process of filing for patent protection for “New Use” or “New Formulation,” in order to protect the intellectual property and credit for this work. Although the drugs we use have been around for many years, Atavistic Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy is a new type of cancer treatment.

Another reason for not divulging the names of the medications is to prevent patients from self-medicating. It also prevents well-meaning caregivers from misusing drugs with which they are not familiar with in the treatment of cancer.

How humane. What rot! Sure, Dr. Arguello says that he’ll tell patients what the classes of drugs are that his patient receives and will offer them a hotline to find out exactly what the drugs are if they’re ever hospitalized and their doctors really need to know what they’re taking, but none of that helps scientists and oncologists to evaluate whether his treatments have any plausibility or likelihood of working. That’s the point. Of course, if any university were ever to accept a “challenge” from Dr. Arguello, he’d be forced to reveal exactly what his concoction is. Surely he knows this. In fact, in a way, Dr. Arguello is even worse than Stanislaw Burzynski. At least Burzynski apparently actually tried to do clinical trials before legitimate researchers decided they couldn’t work with him and he settled in 1997 on his model of using them to keep his clinic open and make money. Dr. Arguello doesn’t even seem to have done that.

But what is “atavastic oncology,” anyway?

Cancer as atavism: The resurrection of a very old idea

Perhaps the best way to explain what Dr. Arguello appears to mean when he describes “atavastic oncology” is to go to the source. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), it’s a rather disjointed source, but it’s what Dr. Arguello claims; so we’re stuck with it. If you have time to go through it, there’s this 45 minute video:

On his website, there is this:

Cells in multicellular organisms have developed, over billions of years of evolution, complex and specialized cell functions according to their role in the body of multicellular organisms (skin cells, pancreatic cells, brain cells, etc.). We call these specialized cells “differentiated cells.” When differentiated cells lose their features of differentiation, they become “undifferentiated cells.”

We believe that when this happens, loss of differentiation features, cells reverse to their original, independent unicellular life form, and re-activate their basic functions of life: obtaining nourishment from the surrounding environment, reproducing themselves, migrating and spreading to ensure survival and perpetuation of life. This is what we call cancer. In other words, when a cell in a multicellular organism (animal or plant) reverts to its unicellular life form, cancer has developed. The resulting colony of reverted cancer cells will reproduce and spread inside the multicellular organism disrupting its functions and eventually causing its death.


Atavistic metamorphosis proposes that cancer cells are cells that have reverted, evolutionarily, to their ancestral, independent status as unicellular organisms. It is from there that cancer only occurs in plants and animals/humans (multicellular organisms). This also explains why cancer does not occur nor can be induced experimentally in unicellular organisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

That last bit is about as silly as it gets. Of course, unicellular organisms can’t get cancer! Cancer, by its very definition as a set of diseases, requires a multicellular organism. Indeed, a seminal article from 2000 by Douglas Hanahan and Robert Weinberg described six hallmarks of cancer thusly:

  1. sustaining proliferative signaling
  2. evading growth suppressors
  3. resisting cell death
  4. enabling replicative immortality
  5. inducing angiogenesis
  6. activating invasion and metastasis

An update to this seminal work was published in 2011 and added additional hallmarks that had emerged over the last decade:


The point is that cancer is defined as a disease of multicellular organisms that results in a proliferating “organ” that doesn’t obey the rules that keep the rest of our cells growing when they’re supposed to grow, maintaining the structures they’re supposed to maintain, and staying in the parts of the body where they’re supposed to stay. Of course, unicellular organisms don’t get it!

It turns out that Dr. Arguello isn’t the only one promoting the atavistic hypothesis of cancer right now. In fact, two astrophysicists, Paul Davies and Charley Lineweaver, have been intermittently in the news for publishing a “unifying hypothesis” on the evolutionary origins of cancer. Back in 2011, for instance, Davies published an article in The Guardian entitled “Cancer: The beat of an ancient drum?” based on an article published by Davies and Lineweaver in Physical Biology entitled “Cancer tumors as Metazoa 1.0: tapping genes of ancient ancestors“. It turns out that the National Cancer Institute, in an effort to look at cancer in new ways, had recruited physical scientists to provide fresh insights. This was not a bad idea on its surface, but one consequence of bringing in people from unrelated disciplines is that they don’t know which hypotheses that have been considered before and rejected based on the evidence and therefore frequently act as though they were the first to have thought of a new hypothesis, as Davies does here:

With no prior knowledge of cancer, I started asking some very basic questions. What struck me from the outset is that something as pervasive and stubborn as cancer must be a deep part of the story of life itself. Sure enough, cancer is found in almost all multicellular organisms, suggesting its origins stretch back hundreds of millions of years.

Oncologists tend to think of cancer as a motley collection of cells gone berserk, but to me the way that tumours grow and spread to other organs indicates an organised and systematic strategy, designed to evade all that the body and the medical profession can throw at it. Such well-honed behaviour suggests they are the product of a long period of biological evolution.

I began wondering whether cancer might be an evolutionary throwback to the dawn of multicellular life, when single cells began cooperating and forming rudimentary aggregations.


The reason that cancer deploys so many formidable survival traits in succession, is, we think, because the ancient genetic toolkit active in the earliest stages of embryogenesis gets switched back on, re-activating the Proterozoic developmental plan for building cell colonies. If you travelled in a time machine back one billion years, you would see many clumps of cells resembling modern cancer tumours.

The implications of our theory, if correct, are profound. Rather than cancers being rogue cells degenerating randomly into genetic chaos, they are better regarded as organised footsoldiers marching to the beat of an ancient drum, recapitulating a billion-year-old lifestyle. As cancer progresses in the body, so more and more of the ancestral core within the genetic toolkit is activated, replaying evolution’s story in reverse sequence. And each step confers a more malignant trait, making the oncologist’s job harder.

Note that this is merely a more “sophisticated”-sounding version of the same sorts of arguments that Dr. Arguello makes. Moreover, neither Lineweaver and Davies nor Arguello were the first to have thought of this idea. It’s a very old idea, indeed. Indeed, on Dr. Arguello’s site, there is a list of quotes from what he calls the “pioneers of atavistic metamorphosis,” including Rudolf Virchow, Herbert Snow, and Sir Henry Butlin, all of whom died at least over 84 years ago, with Virchow having made his name as the “father of modern pathology” back in the 19th century. In 2013, Darren Saunders pointed out that the idea that cancer represents some sort of devolutionary state dates at least as far back as Theodore Boveri, who 112 years ago published a fascinating article on the origin of cancer that, in part, discussed “interesting parallels” between malignant tumors and embryos produced by multiple divisions in the doubly fertilized sea urchin egg, as a suggestion of how tumors can resemble cells from early stages of embryogenesis. No wonder Saunders also likened the atavistic hypothesis of cancer from two astrophysicists to a doctor who reinvented calculus.

P.Z. Myers explained in depth why this line of reasoning was wrong, pointing out what any cancer biologist knows, namely that this “ancestral core of genes and processes deep in metazoan development” supposedly lurking, silenced, waiting to be switched on and to “turn the cell into a prehistoric monster” are not silent at all. They’re highly conserved (meaning that they’re so fundamental to cellular function that they developed very early in evolution and haven’t changed much) and active, controlling important developmental processes. They’re genes involved in cell division, adhesion, motility, and apoptosis (programmed cell death). As recognized by Hanahan and Weinberg’s hallmarks of cancer, they are the central controls that are disrupted in cancer and lose control over cell division. Moreover, Lineweaver and Davies, at least, totally misunderstand unicellular organisms when they argue that the ancient cellular program resurrected in cancer cells doesn’t “contain the genes that regulate cell proliferation.” Anyone who’s ever studied bacteriology would know that’s utter poppycock. Yes, even E. coli regulate their proliferation in response to a number of environmental factors, and there are bacteria that go completely dormant and form nonreplicating spores when environmental conditions are too harsh for replication.

The bottom line is that cancers are not most like single celled organisms. For one thing, they cannot survive outside of the body, leading Saunders to propose a test for the atavistic hypothesis: Drop tumor cells into the ocean and see if they live and grow, like ancient unicellular organisms could. In fact, most tumor cells can’t even survive for that long away from their fellow tumor cells in the body. The few that can are the ones that form metastases, but the vast majority of tumor cells that dislodge from the main tumor mass and get into the bloodstream die. Another limitation of the idea is the assumption that early metazoan organisms resemble tumor-like growths, which is simply not observed. As Saunders pointed out, cancers are dysfunctional by definition. I myself have written about how genetically messed up the genomes of cancer cells are on numerous occasions and how evolution drives the tumors to become more and more heterogeneous as they progress.

So what’s Arguello’s twist on atavism as the explanation for cancer? Well, I can’t read his book, although I could peruse a couple of chapters on Amazon. Well, his “reasoning, such as it is given that it’s based on an untenable hypothesis is this:

Atavistic oncology postulates that cancer cells are cells that have reactivated past evolutionary genetic information preserved in the genome (DNA). Thus cancer cells reacquire the abilities and behavior of their ancestral precursor cells, the primitive unicellular organisms. Therefore, malignant or pathogenic characteristics found in cancer cells such as unlimited replicative potential; capacity for invasion, migration, and metastases; abilities to evade the host’s immune system, and generate multidrug resistance; and abilities to live in hostile conditions are cellular traits reasserted from their hereditary past as primitive, independent single-celled organisms.

This does not imply that cancer cells are bacteria, or protozoa, or yeasts. It means that cancer cells express functions or behaviors similar to their ancestral parents, the unicellular organisms (such as bacteria-like and protist-like organisms) from which our cells originated.

If this is true, a combination of drugs that are effective to eradicate certain unicellular organisms should work in cancer treatment. Not only they should work, but this approach must be superior to any other approach used in the past to treat cancer. Because of the overwhelming results we have obtained and shown on our website, we prophesize that Atavistic Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy will become the way cancer is treated in the world.

So now we have the explanation for why Dr. Arguello uses anti-bacterial (antibiotics), anti-fungal, and anti-protozoal (anti-parasitic) drugs to treat cancer. It doesn’t explain why he uses antiviral drugs “when other approaches fail,” given that viruses are not considered to be unicellular organisms, given that they are not cells at all. Indeed, they are not even really considered to be alive, given that they cannot replicate by themselves and require a living host cell to do so. In fact, he even takes the idea that cancer cells are like metazoans and protozoans to the extreme that he thinks he can vaccinate against them by vaccinating against bacteria, while conceding, well:

Although unproven and totally speculative, we believe that the immune system can see and recognize molecular similarities on the surface among cancer cells, bacteria, protozoa and/or fungi. It is well known that vaccination for a given bacteria can indirectly protect the individual from other types of infections for different organisms not related to those in the vaccine. This is known as cross immune protection or resistance to phylogenetically unrelated organisms.

At least he admits this idea is totally unproven. But if that’s the case, then it’s even more unethical to use them as a basis of treatment without a lot more basic research and clinical trials. Would that he would admit the same for the rest of his ideas, but if you watched his video, you’d see that around 3:30 it’s claimed that Dr. Arguello can produce complete regressions of cancer.

Yes, cancer vaccines are a hot area of research right now. I happen to know researchers at my very own institution who are working on breast cancer vaccines, and I’ve served on the dissertation committee of a graduate student who was looking for ways to increase the efficacy of an experimental breast cancer vaccine. Vaccines are a promising area of research for some cancers. Here’s the problem. What Dr. Arguello is doing is not systematic or targeted, and my expressing my doubt is not, as he puts it, being skeptical about the idea that immunity against unicellular organisms or their toxins can crossreact against cancer cells and kill them. Rather, it’s against the idea that the reason this can happen is because tumor cells are atavistic, which is what Arguello argues. Indeed, it is striking how uncommon these observations appear to be (as demonstrated by the cherry picked papers included to bolster his point), other than the use of BCG as immunotherapy for bladder cancer, noted in a paper he misrepresents as having been published in Nature, when in fact it was published in a Nature journal, Mucosal Immunology.

What about the testimonials?

Leafing through the various testimonials included on Dr. Arguello’s website, I was struck at the resemblance of some of them to testimonials used by Dr. Burzynski. For instance, the case of Barb Juniper is an unfortunately typical case of a woman who developed melanoma, underwent successful surgical treatment, and then suffered a recurrence in the form of two brain metastases and a tiny deposit. These appear to have been surgically resected on January 24, although it’s not clear from the description (or the scans, for that matter), whether both or only one was resected. It’s also mentioned that an apparently-new frontal lobe metastasis was observed on March 4, but it’s also mentioned that an “abscess can’t be ruled out.”

The first thing I noticed is that many of these MRI slices are not at the same level and therefore not directly comparable. One of the lesions was clearly postsurgical change that resolved over the ensuing months. Another appeared to have shrunk in response to Avastin, although one can’t rule out atavistic chemotherapy having something to do with it. Of course, not knowing what drugs Dr. Arguello is giving, I don’t even know if his drugs cross the blood-brain barrier. I’m particularly shocked by this part of the testimonial:

He proposed to the patient a different approach in which for the first 30 days of the treatment the focus would be on reducing the blood flow and vascularity of the brain metastases to prevent bleeding during the actual atavistic chemotherapy and immunotherapy. This is called “Anti-Angiogenesis Treatment.” The patient accepted.

Dr. Arguello saw the patient on February 21, 2014, the same day she started the anti-angiogenesis treatment and continued until April 5, 2014 when the above treatment was discontinued and the atavistic chemotherapy and immunotherapy started.

One notes that we are not told which antiangiogenic therapy was used, but I can’t help but note that, paradoxically, bleeding is not an uncommon complication of certain antiangiogenic drugs. It’s all not particularly convincing.

Another case is that of a man with an indolent leiomyosarcoma of the leg that grew slowly over many years because he refused surgical intervention back in 2008 as the man sought “natural” (actually naturopathic) treatments. The series of photos (graphic!) to this surgeon show no obvious effect, and the patient abandoned treatment. There are several graphic series of photos of advanced breast cancer that might or might not have shown a treatment effect as opposed to the natural course of the tumor.

I like to think of it this way. If Dr. Arguello’s “atavistic” chemotherapy is as effective as he claims it is, it should be child’s play to demonstrate it in even a few relatively small clinical trials for different tumor types. He doesn’t. Instead, he cherry picks testimonials that might or might not show anything (it might be worth a separate post to analyze them individually) and issues nonsensical “challenges,” in essence, for others to do his own work for him. If he really did work as a pediatric oncologist at the University of Rochester and as a Senior Investigator in the Laboratory of Drug Discovery at the NCI, he knows these things. Yet he chooses not to do them. Instead, he does tours of Canada and the US looking for patients, doesn’t reveal what his protocols are, hiding behind a transparently deceptive excuse that he doesn’t want patients to “self-medicate” (and the more believable one that he doesn’t want other quacks to steal his ideas), and selling his cancer quackery at a clinic in Mexico.

There is a reason that atavistic oncology didn’t catch on among cancer researchers and physicians, and it’s not because of ideology and it’s not because of anyone “suppressing” the information. It’s because atavistic oncology is not consistent with well-established principles of biology and evolution based on 150 years of evidence. It’s because the hypothesis that cancer is an atavism provides no useful predictive power for treatment. Lineweaver and Davies might argue otherwise, claiming that atavism suggests treatments based on targeting the Warburg effect, DNA repair mechanisms, ABC transporters (which can function as drug efflux pumps), tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), and immune interactions, a strategy they label as “target the weakness.” However, as a cancer researcher, I can tell you with knowledge that all of these “weaknesses” are already being investigated as potential therapeutic targets—and have been for at least the last decade—no appeal to atavism needed. Indeed, Lineweaver and Davies suggestion is downright insulting to cancer researchers who discovered the potential importance of these mechanisms in cancer and whose work Lineweaver and Davies seem to have inadvertently coopted as “just-so” stories that support their hypothesis.

Contrary to what Davies, Lineweaver, and Arguello seem to think, the reason the atavistic hypothesis of cancer hasn’t caught on is because it’s a hypothesis that is not new and has been considered and found wanting from a standpoint of biology and evolution. Unfortunately, it is a hypothesis that is easily co-opted for quackery, as Arguello has done.

Posted in: Cancer, Health Fraud

Leave a Comment (76) ↓

76 thoughts on “Dr. Frank Arguello’s “atavistic oncology”: Another dubious cancer therapy to be avoided

  1. Richard Abbott says:

    Is the article cutoff short ? I am not seeing anything after the Regina advert

    1. Richard Abbott says:

      I see it now. Thanks

  2. BKsea says:

    The Davies quote starts off : “With no prior knowledge of cancer,…” That should be a sign you can stop reading right there.

    1. David Gorski says:


      Well, Davies & Lineweaver have recruited an oncologist for the latest paper, just published a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, most oncologists don’t understand evolution any better than astrophysicists. If it’s still holding my interest, maybe next week I’ll do a more in depth discussion. Alternatively, maybe the not-so-super-secret other blog.

  3. Ed Whitney says:

    I am announcing the founding of the Botanic Neurololgic Institute.

    Our breakthrough realization: “Trees don’t get Alzheimer’s .”

    Details to follow. Contributions olf any amount are appreciated.

    1. CHotel says:

      For several decades, there has been no trace of cancer in my mother’s gardens. Clearly the soil around my childhood home is full of anti-cancer chemicals. You can now buy a pound of it for only $5000!

  4. Calli Arcale says:

    “because viruses preceded cells in their origin”

    Well now, that seems to be a pretty remarkable claim that he’s making there. How does he propose viruses preceded cells, given that viruses cannot reproduce without cells? I think it’s far more likely that it went the other way. Certainly there must have been something simpler before the cell, but by definition it was not a virus. I wonder who he’s got that’s dangerously far from his expertise to do paleontology for him, since he’s depending on astrophysicists for his cancer research? Computer scientists, perhaps?

    (I’m not disparaging computer scientists. I’m a software engineer, after all. But while I enjoy prying fossils out of shale as much as the next geek, I’m no expert.)

  5. MTDoc says:

    With what on the surface appears to be an impressive background, I would love to know what his former colleagues think of him. Perhaps something like the Nobel effect. Or, a professor I once worked with, and admired greatly, that one day left his wife and four children and went off to some mountain to wait for the end of the world. The narrow focus on a marginal idea also suggests a measure of OCD or asbergers.
    I suspect he will have little trouble operating a clinic in Mexico.

    1. MTDoc says:

      I mean asperger’s. My country dialect got in the way.

    2. David Gorski says:

      I suspect he will have little trouble operating a clinic in Mexico.

      Well, he’s apparently been operating his clinic there for nearly 14 years.

      1. Michael says:

        I noticed on his website he has a US Office at Arguello Brothers and Associates in Maryland, so for the heck of it i checked to see if he is licensed in Maryland. I didn’t find a licence but I did happen to find some page where a Dr. Frank Arguello of Arguello Brothers and Associates was looking to purchase Miltefosine.

  6. Neil J says:

    Well this sucks. I would have loved to have known about his event in Saskatoon beforehand so I could do some homework and throw a wrench or two in his presentation. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the one in Regina either. Next time anyone catches wind of cranks in the Sasquatchewan area let me know.

  7. simba says:

    I am always amazed at how people like this will include testimonials of people who are clearly not getting better- wouldn’t you be better off just making the testimonials up?

    Years ago I went through a load of testimonials for a friend of mine who had cancer, and had been recommended this quack treatment. Some of them were obvious- ‘cured’ people who were listed in the obituaries as having died of their cancer. Others were more sad, along the lines of (paraphrased) “My husband’s lost a lot of weight and looks worse than ever but he feels like he’s getting better, so thank you I guess for giving him hope.”

    I am not sure of the etiquette of completely off-topic questions, but can anyone direct me to information on phthalates? I’ve read the three articles on here about them, and the articles linked to those, and the CDC article, and searched Science-Based Pharmacy and the NSSOB.

    An acquaintance was talking about how dangerous they are in sex toys specifically, and having read those articles I was wondering how dangerous that kind of exposure could really be if we’re already exposed to phthalates in food and cosmetics. Would there even be a reason to avoid them in cosmetics, sex toys, perfumes etc?

    Sorry, this question is bugging me, and I can’t think of another suitable place to ask it where people are likely to know.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Phthalates: reviewed by Dr. Joe Schwarcz here:

      Wikipedia article covers the published evidence for health effects pretty well, with references to primary sources.

      1. simba says:

        Thank you very much!

        1. simba says:

          Just going to outline my conclusions on what I’ve read if anyone is interested or can correct me: there are some actual health concerns (allergies, breast cancer, obesity) but not much info on the levels acquired with that, cough, particular route of exposure. Most exposure is through fatty foods, dermally (cosmetics, infant cosmetics and medical devices) or inhaled (polishes) and people seem to be pretty much swimming in low levels of these things.

          Sooo tentatively avoid in toys then, it’s not a ‘yoga mat chemical’ thing.

          1. Windriven says:


            I own a company that makes the air cushion face masks that anesthesiologists use to preoxygenate you just prior to induction. The cushion is made of soft PVC and, for most customers, we use a phthalate called DINP. Like you, I was concerned about phthalates whenI got involved with this business.

            The current thought is that phthalates are inappropriate for use in nipples for baby bottles and for toys for small children. There is some evidence of endocrine disruption in very young populations. I am not aware of any evidence of harm to adult populations, and especially no evidence with modern phthalates. I don’t manufacture sex toys so I haven’t researched vaginal absorption of phthalates but if you are concerned, silicone would be an obvious alternative.

            Phthalates are used to make PVC soft and flexible. There are alternatives to phthalates but they have different (read less efficient) performance characteristics and tend to be rather more expensive. That would be another alternative but note that the average consumer has no way of testing ‘phthalate free’ claims.

            Finally, phthalate plasticizers are ubiquitous in medical devices from IV sets to suction catheters without evidence of harm.

            1. simba says:

              Thank you, that’s really helpful. People get so frightened about stuff like this, and in certain areas companies seem to be able to say what they like on the label. Add to that the fact that no-one really writes about it (and other areas like this) except for the people who are already afraid, or the people who are trying to sell you a supposedly safer alternative.

              I totally just brought down the tone of the conversation, didn’t I. Ah well.

  8. c0nc0rdance says:

    Yeah, no. Viruses are not suspected by anyone, anywhere to have “preceded cells in their origin, and they were the precursors of the first cells on this planet. ” That’s just nonsensical, and makes me suspicious that this is not just a case of talking outside your specialty. It reads more like “nice scientist has religious epiphany and begins wearing magnet helmet everywhere to heighten his connection to God”.

    1. MTDoc says:

      There you go! Tin foil hat with a profit motive. I’d still love to talk with people who knew him when.

  9. Lytrigian says:

    Pointing out that bacteria cannot get cancer is rather like pointing out that they cannot contract an upper respiratory infection. It’s true, but not particularly helpful.

    1. MadisonMD says:

      Yes, but it does indicate that we could improve health by returning to our historic evolutionary roots– i.e. by becoming unicellular organisms. This is, in fact, how H. Lacks has lived many years despite cancer at a young age.

      1. Lytrigian says:

        Endocytosis: The true Paleo-diet!

        1. Calli Arcale says:

          The two of you have won the Internets for today. :-D

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Rocks also don’t get cancer, I wonder if someone will decide that vivisepulture* is a promising cancer treatment. Which it is, I can guarantee that a successful treatment will ensure you never die of cancer.

      *To all those who love obscure words – you’re welcome.

      1. simba says:

        Thank you!

        You should read Foyle’s Philavery.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Own a copy :)

          As well as two (two!) copies of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary.

          1. n brownlee says:

            I’ll see your two OEDs and raise you a multivolume edition.

            1. Harriet Hall says:

              I only have one OED, but I have lots of other dictionaries, not only for English but for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin, Portuguese, and even Catalan.

              1. n brownlee says:

                All my many dictionaries and usage books are in English, for English. You win, Dr. Hall.

              2. simba says:

                I’m staking it all on my Terminologia Medica Polyglotta. A Latin-Bulgarian-Russian-English-French-German medical dictionary. I am not kidding. Sadly I know little about the writing and author of it, since that bit’s all in Russian.

                They were discarding it in my local library. God knows how it got there. My preeecious…

            2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Jebus, like the full 17-volume “takes up two specially-reinforced shelves” edition? Kudos, I suppose. Did you have to take out a second mortgage?

              Have you read Simon Winchester’s book The Meaning of Everything? If not, you should!

              1. n brownlee says:

                Uh, not exactly. A ratty old 10-volume set published in 1937. It’s pretty cool, though. I gave up on a current set- but only after years (decades) of lovesick yearning. Still- I have lots and lots of books, and the 3 language reference shelves are 6-8 feet long.

                I don’t write any more- but I can’t get rid of them, can I? What if I want to look up something and the computer bluescreens? I would just run around in small circles and snatch at my hair and utter little short screams of anguish.

              2. n brownlee says:

                I haven’t read the Winchester book- but it’s on my ever-lengthening list.

      2. Calli Arcale says:

        Vivsepulture for cancer…. I dunno. I’ll let Mr Poe speak a little:

        “There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example, with the most intense of “pleasurable pain” over the accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact — it is the reality — it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them with simple abhorrence.”

        The Premature Burial. He, of course, goes on to invent stories of premature burial, but I think his last line in that paragraph could as easily describe some of the charlatans we’ve discussed here.

  10. Lisa R. says:

    I’m new to learning about cancer, and trying to sort out the quacks from the real doctors for my mother-in-law who has breast cancer. She had told me about atavistic chemotherapy and when I searched for it today, I found your blog, which I will be showing her.

    As a lay-person though, I have a question. I am wondering if there are any published scientific articles that attempt to ‘cure’ cancer in this way and show that it does not work. You stated several times in the article that atavism has proven to not work – and you do explain it well why this is so. I am just looking for scientific articles for myself (and if I can convince the mother-in-law to read them too, then for her as well). I hope what I am asking is clear – basically have there been any experiments done with rats, etc. using this kind of method and proving that it is not successful, instead of purely biological explanations that persons like myself have a more difficult time understanding. I think an article with a clearly delineated experiment might be easier for a layperson like myself to understand. I do have some scientific background, but it is mainly in chemistry.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Dr. Gorski explained in his article that there are not any published clinical trials of this therapy, only testimonials, which are notoriously unreliable. Arguello is attempting to bypass the normal scientific process and has rushed to treatment without testing whether it works or not. So we don’t have evidence that it doesn’t work, but we don’t have evidence that it works, either. Based on a knowledge of science and cancer, we have good reason to think that proper testing would show that it didn’t work.

    2. simba says:

      Here are some links I found really helpful while doing something similar:

      With a lot of these ‘cures’, if there’s nothing remotely promising about it, no-one but the person selling it will ‘test’ it. And they have an interest in not publishing things that show their product doesn’t work. If you have a limited budget to study something to help people with cancer, you will usually try and focus on things that stand a chance of working, rather than on showing that ideas that don’t make sense don’t work.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Here are some links I found really helpful while doing something similar:


        1. David Gorski says:

          Why “sigh”? Peter’s website is really good, albeit hopelessly c.2000 in design.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            I sigh for 14 years of missed opportunity.

    3. David Gorski says:

      There aren’t even any animal trials I’m aware of using “atavistic oncology” to treat experimental tumors. It’s a whole load of nothing, evidence-wise, other than speculation.

      As for the unreliability of testimonial evidence for cancer cures, I’ve written numerous posts about such things. For example:

      1. Lisa R. says:

        Thank you everyone for responding. I must have missed that part originally about there not being any clinical trials on this. There is a lot to read! Trying to soak it all in .

        1. CHotel says:

          And thank you for taking the time to research these types of things and question everything you’re hearing! Many people in a situation similar to yours can become overwhelmed at the dearth of truth within all the cure-shouting quacks, and may allow hope to overcome critical thought and reason. Fewer take your route of asking good questions and looking at the science rather than the stories. It’s great to see that your mother-in-law has such a wonderful advocate!

          I hope you continue to read SBM as your searches require, and keep commenting so that we can all try to help you understand anything you feel unclear of.

        2. simba says:

          I hope I didn’t give you too many links! I just found them really useful, sometimes the information I wanted wouldn’t be on one and I’d have to look through the others.

          Well done for taking the time to look at this.

          1. Lisa R. says:

            Thanks everyone – I plan on reading more here at SBM and all the links that have been provided.

            I am wondering something else – there was a side note about the clinic being located in Los Cabos and that it was surprising that it was not in Tijuana (I am paraphrasing here, I can’t seem to find the exact sentence right this second). What’s the deal with Tijuana specifically? I understand why these kinds of clinics might be in Mexico in particular, but what is it about Tijuana that draws so many of them? Are the laws different there, or it is just because it is a popular tourist destination/easy to travel to?

            1. KayMarie says:

              AFIAK it is location. You can have your corporate office in San Diego which seems more legit and easily send clients across the border for treatments.

              I don’t think the rules are different there than elsewhere in Mexico.

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Lisa, if your mother-in-law comments on how convincing those testimonials are, and many people find testimonials convincing because that’s how humans are, you could ask her a question about negative testimonials. Specifically, “do you think Dr. Arguello would post a testimonial when the treatment didn’t work? And how could someone who died ever provide their testimonial?”

          This illustrates the effect of cherry-picking testimonials on the evidence base.

    4. MadisonMD says:

      One particular reason is not possible to show that Arguello’s treatment is not effective is that he will not tell what the treatment is. It seems to be an off-the-cuff concoction of medications that may well differ for each patient.

    5. Calli Arcale says:

      In addition to the great stuff others have given already, I’d like to add a quick reference to my favorite webcomic. If you find someone telling you that they have the cure to cancer in such a way that your spidey sense starts tingling, and as evidence they offer that it has been shown to work in vitro (i.e. in a lab setting, not in an actual animal or person), keep this in mind:

      (Note: all XKCD comics have extra jokes hidden in the alt-text; mouse over the comic to see it.)

  11. qetzal says:

    If cancers grow by reactivating the atavistic programs of ancient unicellular organisms, why do they have so many ways to overcome specific controls of their multicellular/ hosts! You know, the controls and hosts that didn’t exist/ a billion years ago!

    In the immortal words of a certain insolent rabbit, “What a maroon!”

  12. Derek Freyberg says:

    A quick search on the patent database esp@cenet reveals no patents or published applications in the US or PCT to any “arguello, f” that would match our hero. Why am I not surprised?

  13. Chris Hickie says:

    This is probably just word play, but Avastin and atavistic–to my brain–sound similar enough that I could imagine people being fooled by the similarity–at least enough to get them in the door for this SCAMming.

    1. Sawyer says:

      I’d wager that’s just a coincidence. The central mechanism of Dr. Frank’s treatment really does seem to revolve around some poorly conceived notions of what an atavism is, so it seems plausible to me he just picked the most obvious name.

  14. Lisa R. says:

    I found some concerning things about the doctor himself.

    You never know with these ripoff reports things. I’ve seen some that don’t have any basis and the website refuses to take them down. But his response below the claim is worth noting. Claiming ties to the mafia… his response does at least validate the claim that this person was bullied/threatened.

    And, patents are mentioned here in an old CV, but none for anything having to do with atavistic oncology/chemotherapy

    Are these real patents? I don’t know how to look this information up. All of them on the list say pending, filing, or application filed. I tried just googling some of the numbers and the phrases used, but only his CV and a brother’s CV come up. How would one find out if these patents were ever approved?

    1. Chris Hickie says:

      I’m in ripoffreport because someone thought I’d reported them to Child Protective Services. It would have been funny except for the threat of violence against me and my family, which earned it a police report.

    2. Derek Freyberg says:

      There are two types of numbers there: numbers that start with 60/ and numbers that start with ER and end with US.
      The 60/xxx,xxx numbers represent provisional patent applications, which last one year and provide basis (priority) for a regular nonprovisional patent application if filed within the year. Provisional applications are non-public, so not searchable UNLESS a regular application is filed claiming the basis of the provisional, in which case the provisional becomes available when the regular application publishes. So none of the provisionals was ever followed by a regular application and they’re all long since dead.
      The ERxxxxxxxxxxxxUS numbers look to me like Express Mail label numbers. Before Web filing (and you can still do it now), people would file patent applications by Express Mail because the Patent & Trademark Office rules says that if you do so, the application is treated as having been filed on the day you put it in the mail.
      Anyway, a further check, this time on the PTO website under published applications using just “arguello” as the inventor name, found only two medically-related patents and neither was to Frank Arguello.

    3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Keep in mind that patents only protect an idea, they do not prove it works. The patent office has a list of ideas they will never approve (perpetual motion machines being the only one I can think of) but they never, ever test any of the devices or ideas for effectiveness.

  15. Frederick says:

    Did the Sith Lords cloned Burzynski or what? Burzinsky even look more “real” than this guy ( I’m NOT saying Burzinsky is not bad). When you have to run your clinic in mexico, it does not bode well for any patients.

    If treating cancer was as simple as using anti-bacterial and anti-fungus, does he really think pharmaceuticals would continue to spend that much money on new and better cancer drugs? Instead they would be continuing to sell their old drugs, drugs that their research expenses are paid for a long time now, at high price and cash in.

    yet Another Sith Lord Doctor that prey on desperate people.

  16. ModerateSceptic says:

    A moderate amount of scepticism in health and medical research is an excellent thing; it prevents us from being duped by charm merchants and other snake-oil salesmen. However, excessive scepticism merely blinds us to new ideas, and I think the author is definitely leaning in this direction.
    In my field (environmental science) our preferred research method is to experiment and gather data, and use the results to build a model that describes the process or attribute you’re researching. This is a data-driven model and is analogous to the extensive clinical trials of medical research. However, in environmental science we rarely have the funding or the time to run the studies and trials we need — so we comb the literature, talk to people who work in the same field and use our best informed professional knowledge to build a model that we think will work. This is an expert-opinion model. Wherever possible, we gather data to refine, improve or even disprove the model — but it acts as a starting point when you don’t have enough information for a data-driven model.
    IMHO – and I have read Dr Arguello’s book, which the author has not — Dr Arguello has done just this. Realizing that conventional chemotherapy will not cure the majority of metastasized (Stage IV) cancers, and in fact provides little increase in expected lifespan over no treatment at all [references available] he has drawn up a new model which may provide new insight as to how cancers work and how they could be attacked. (It’s not as simplistic as just using an antibiotic; read the book.) Sure, a data-driven model would be better, but funding for extensive clinical trials is not exactly freely available, and there are many Stage IV cancer patients who don’t have the 5-10 years that it would take to develop one. “Barb Juniper” is one of them, and is probably not sorry that Dr Arguello didn’t wait.
    This is not to say that I would advocate quack remedies for those who are suffering with Stage IV cancers and have no hope with mainstream treatments — but I was advised by a well-respected “traditional” oncologist that, while he did not necessarily subscribe to Dr Arguello’s views, he was not a quack. The author is happy to state that he doesn’t agree with the atavistic hypothesis (though I notice he was short on details to refute it) — but if you were given a choice between certain death within a few months, versus a possible reprieve with a plausible but largely untested hypothesis, which would you choose? Yes, “Barb Juniper” is a human guinea pig — but her original prognosis said she’d be dead by now, and she’s very much alive.

    1. David Gorski says:

      If what is in Dr. Arguello’s book resembles what’s on his website and on his videos, I’m on quite firm ground from a scientific standpoint dismissing it. I rather suspect that, like so many quack treatments, a lot of window dressing on a scientifically bankrupt idea. I also note that the links I provide go into more detail why the atavistic hypothesis of cancer is not a good one and why it has been abandoned by oncologists. Perhaps the most critical reasons are that the atavistic hypothesis makes no predictions and suggests no treatments that existing hypotheses already make. As for being “short on details to refute it,” be careful what you ask for. You might just get it in a future post.

      In particular, as a scientist and, more importantly, as a physician, I am offended by the lack of transparency of Dr. Arguellos’ treatments. He doesn’t tell what drugs he gives other than vague mutterings of general classes, doses, sequence, or rationale. Then he issues this ridiculous challenge, which is not how science works.

      You have failed to persuade me.

    2. Windriven says:

      ” “Barb Juniper” is a human guinea pig — but her original prognosis said she’d be dead by now, and she’s very much alive.”

      And this means … what? That Arguellos cured her? That the prognosis was wrong? That she spontaneously had a remission? That the initial diagnosis was incorrect?

      N=1 doesn’t tell us much. N=1 with a murky treatment plan tells nothing at all.

    3. Andrey Pavlov says:

      In my field (environmental science) our preferred research method is to experiment and gather data, and use the results to build a model that describes the process or attribute you’re researching.

      Indeed. And the problem is that there is a vast amount of data which clearly shows that the atavistic cancer idea is simply untenable. We aren’t blind to new ideas. We are always happy to have new and even profoundly iconoclastic ideas sway us. But this is not an example of our blindness but yours – you are blind to the decades of research and thought that have shown atavism to be like N-rays… non existent.

    4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      In my field (environmental science) our preferred research method is to experiment and gather data, and use the results to build a model that describes the process or attribute you’re researching.

      If somebody came to you, who wasn’t an environmental scientist and didn’t know what an ecological niche was, and claimed they could produce a sponge that could soak up toxins in an environment but release all the healthy substances, and restore ecosystems to a pristine state, but never conducted any research to prove this fact – would you believe them? Perhaps the error is that you fail to grasp the complexities of the field, and fail to understand what we already know about cancer.

      Also, your extremely condescending reply implies strongly, very very strongly actually, that somehow oncologists don’t “experiment and gather data”. How do you think they came to understand that cancer is due to undifferentiated cellular division, divine inspiration?

      he has drawn up a new model which may provide new insight as to how cancers work and how they could be attacked

      That’s delightful and all – models are great. But selling a book that promotes an unproven treatment, and providing that treatment for a fee, makes him an asshole, a quack and a grasping, greedy shithead taking advantage of dying cancer patients. While current treatments for stage-IV cancer are generally palliative rather than curative, that doesn’t mean that the alternative offered by a quack with an idea, a lot of references and a filled appointment book is an actual cure. Curing cancer is hard. Fucking hard. And Arguello doesn’t want to do the hard work of actually proving that his approach works before he charges people for it. Why on Earth would you claim his blandishments are worth any time for someone who has very little left?

      versus a possible reprieve with a plausible but largely untested hypothesis, which would you choose?

      I wouldn’t empty out my bank account and waste my time travelling to Mexico. I would ideally want my death to provide benefit by being part of a clinical trial.

      Yes, “Barb Juniper” is a human guinea pig — but her original prognosis said she’d be dead by now, and she’s very much alive.

      What about all the other peopel who by their original prognosis should be dead by now and are actually dead? Have you looked into their testimonials?

      And that’s why testimonials and anecdotes are worthless. You have no idea how many people died of cancer for Barb Juniper to be held up as an example of a cure.

  17. ModerateSceptic says:

    You’re right, of course, in that n=1 doesn’t tell us much. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything — but as someone who’s *always* working with insufficient time and insufficient data, I often use anecdotal evidence to point me in a direction that I think will be worth investigating further. There are a number of cases on the clinic’s website that make me think, okay, one might be a fluke but here’s several; maybe I should check into this a bit more.
    I also happen to agree that the clinic’s website is pretty superficial. I would like to know how many cases he’s treated and what percentage have gone into remission. What’s the median survival time, compared to the survival time of patients treated by conventional chemotherapy? But, you know, I think I’ll just ask him.

    1. MadisonMD says:

      Why don’t you ask what the treatment is. That is an even more fundamental question.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      I often use anecdotal evidence to point me in a direction that I think will be worth investigating further.

      Great. Here is a list, off the top of my head, of things that are supported with anecdotal evidence, of curing cancer. Keeping in mind, of course, that each item actually represents potentially thousands of individual “diseases”, as cancer isn’t a unitary entity. Please let us know which form of treatment is most promising and should have more research effort put into it:
      - antineoplastons
      - homeopathy
      - acupuncture
      - chiropractic spinal manipulation
      - massage
      - megadoses of vitamin A
      - megadoses of vitamin B1
      - megadoses of vitamin B2
      - megadoses of vitamin B6
      - megadoses of vitamin B12
      - megadoses of vitamin C
      - megadoses of vitamin D
      - megadoses of vitamin E
      - megadoses of vitamin K
      - ultra-low calorie diets
      - ketogenic diets
      - fruitarianism
      - bretharianism
      - herbal supplements
      - aspirin
      - baking soda
      - “live” water
      - “alkaline” water
      - naturopathy (as a field)
      - prayer
      - complete avoidance of all fruit sugars
      - detoxification by bowel
      - detoxification by blood
      - detoxification by breath
      - detoxification by emesis
      - detoxification by skin
      - cupping
      - moxibustion
      - applied kinesiology
      - removal of dental amalgams
      - elimination of gluten from the diet
      - colloid silver
      - coffee enemas
      - hyperbaric chambers
      - ozone therapy
      - heavy metal chelation
      - psychic surgery
      - Ayurvedic medicine
      - shark cartilage
      - meditation
      - biofeedback
      - imagery
      - faith and begorrah
      - encounter groups
      - therapy
      - group therapy
      - art therapy
      - reiki
      - therapeutic touch
      - exercise

      And that’s just off the top of my head. That’s not even going into anecdotal evidence for unapproved drugs.

      Maybe we shouldn’t just take at his word the opinion of every asshole with a website and a book.

    3. KayMarie says:

      You know, no other researcher in no other area of science looks at observational data to help form a hypothesis?

      Um, OK. However you have to look at the quality of the anecdotes compared with others. Often the best ones that lead the farthest are the observations made systematically or as part of a controlled experiment.

      And you have to consider the source of the anecdotes. Far too many testimonials on websites used to market something are not good quality observational data, so tend to rank low on the list of things used to decide which direction one’s research should go next.

  18. Marilyn Lotton says:

    I was interested in your article on Dr. Frank Arguello. My 35 year old daughter has stage IV Melanoma and is fighting for her life. Sometime ago I contacted him and I did not care for some of his, almost threatening emails. My daughter’s oncologist calls him a quack. I was wondering if you have heard of Dr. Stephen Cantrell, who has a cancer treatment centre near Nashville Tennessee, I believe it is called Neoplas or something like that. Any opinion on his treatment? He claims he cured himself of Melanoma. I would be interested in hearing from you.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Looks like he combines lovastatin and interferon, off-label, and charges people for the privilege of being involved in an off-label clinical trial. Looks like he’s very kind but can’t actually deliver.

      I’m sorry to say he seems like a garden-variety quack to me, a search on pubmed turns up some preliminary results but nothing by Cantrell himself. He’s even been on Oz’s show, which is a mark against him in my book.

      No matter what he’s doing, it’s unethical and greedy. If he’s got a cure for cancer, he’s selling it for money and keeping it out of the public arena where it could be popularized and help millions. If he doesn’t, he’s just fleecing the dying. If he wants my respect* he’ll get off his ass and study it properly, reporting out in the peer reviewed literature.

      *I very much doubt he would want it or care, doubtless because he’s too busy counting his money.

    2. MadisonMD says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your daughter, Ms. Lotton. Unfortunately, cancer patients are often desperate, and make easy targets for people looking for easy targets. This is nothing new. Wikipedia has accumulated dozens of these schemes dating back decades and includes a 1930 Public Health Poster with advice that is sage today: “A reputable physician does not promise a cure, demand advance payment, advertise.” So the bad news is that anyone who promises cure is lying, no matter how much we would want it to be true.

      The good news is that after decades of failures, much progress has been made in the treatment of melanoma over the past few years (though not, under ordinary circumstances*, cure for Stage IV). I am sure your daughter’s physician is aware of ipilumimab, nivolumab, as well as BRAF inhibitors (for BRAF+ melanoma). These are far more effective than interferon (which was developed in the 1990′s and is barely effective) and lovastatin (which is not known to be effective for treating melanoma; it is an old cholesterol medicine that was tested to prevent melanoma but failed to do so.

      Moreover, there are many new agents being developed with far more promise than interferon and lovastatin, and if accepted into a clinical trial, your daughter would not be required to pay for the medicine. You should share your questions/concerns with your doctor but if you want another opinion, your best bet is to contact your nearest NCI Cancer Center to get a second opinion.

    3. MadisonMD says:

      I just looked more into Cantrell. He does not seem reputable. He is an MD trained in maxillofacial surgery and has no training in oncology. His anecdote that he cured himself is not convincing. He makes the claim on his website that:

      As of early August 2014, our successful response rates in human patients have been as follows.
      Malignant melanoma All patients, 81% (13 of 16) / Patients with stage 4 or 3c disease, 79% (11 of 14)

      What you see here are (a) some very small numbers; (b) a lack of transparency about how response was determined, verified or audited (There are very specific standardized criteria used in oncology and even with the criteria there can be discrepancies between observers.) Also he has never subjected these data to peer review as he does not publish scientifically. (Hence if he had “the cure,” which he doesn’t, this would be a severe breech of ethics to not share the results so that others might benefit).

      His website also says:

      We do not bill insurance companies or other third parties directly nor do we allow them to dictate our fees, and our office staff cannot serve as your insurance liaison. We provide services directly to you and payment for services is your responsibility.

      So your daughter would be on the hook for any fees he charges, which are not likely to be fully reimbursed by insurance. Very very few reputable physicians do this.

      Interestingly, he seems to be a bit shady in finance as well. See this:

      Several investment products may be available with varying degrees of risk and return potential. The minimum investment amount is $10,000 USD for a product offering excellent return potential and a no-loss guarantee…

      Hmmm…. An investment with a no loss guarantee from an oncology clinic run by a maxillofacial surgeon. Could this be too good to be true?

    4. Farrah says:

      You are absolutely correct about Dr. Arguello’s threatening emails. I used to work for him for several months until I could take it no longer. When he communicates with his patients, he is holding himself back. He doesn’t do that with his employees at all. He has a terrible temper and gets unreasonably angry over the slightest perceived problems. He also speaks badly of his patients to his employees, which I find very sad. It is a shame. He claims to want to cure cancer and help people, but his demeanor and behavior show otherwise.

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