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The Hidden Cancer Cure

Last week David Gorski wrote a excellent post about why we have not yet cured cancer. It turns out, cancer is a category of many individual diseases that are very challenging to treat. We have made steady progress, and many people with cancer can now be cured – but we have not discovered the one cure for all cancer. I personally am not convinced that we will discover a single cure for all cancer, at least not with any extrapolation of current technology. But if we continue to make progress as we are cancer will become an increasingly treatable and even curable type of disease.

This topic also brings up a meme that has been around for a long time – the notion that scientists have already cured cancer but the cure is being suppressed by the powers that be, to protect cancer as a source of income. In the comments to David’s article, Zuvrick writes:

So we can find a cure. It has probably happened multiple times. But nobody wants to cure cancer. Too many researchers earn a living seeking a cure by remaining inside a narrow, restricted channel of dogma. Their institutions get grant money and survive from the funding. Big Pharma makes big bucks selling chemotherapy drugs, surgeons remove tumors and various radiation devices employ radiologists and firms making these machines. MRI and CT scans would not be needed for cancer if Rife technology were available today.

I have heard or read some version of this claim since before I entered medical school.  Superficially it may sound like profound wisdom (cynicism is a cheap way to sound wise) – but the idea collapses under the slightest bit of logical scrutiny.

First, as David thoroughly pointed out, the claim is implausible. Cancer is a complex set of diseases that defy sincere attempts at a cure. Those who promote the notion of the hidden cure often simultaneously promote wacky pseudoscientific treatments that they claim work – and Zuvrick is no exception. He believes that Royal Rife cured cancer 70 years ago. Rife was essentially a copycat of Albert Abrams who promoted his radio frequency devices. The concept is to use radio waves to alter the vibrations of cells in the body. This is pure nonsense. Here is a quick summary from Stephen Barret:

One of Abrams’s many imitators was Royal Raymond Rife (1888-1971), an American who claimed that cancer was caused by bacteria. During the 1920s, he claimed to have developed a powerful microscope that could detect living microbes by the color of auras emitted by their vibratory rates. His Rife Frequency Generator allegedly generates radio waves with precisely the same frequency, causing the offending bacteria to shatter in the same manner as a crystal glass breaks in response to the voice of an opera singer. The American Cancer Society has pointed out that although sound waves can produce vibrations that break glass, radio waves at the power level emitted a Rife generator do not have sufficient energy to destroy bacteria.

But let’s explore the logic of the hidden cure a bit further. Given that cancer is such a complex set of diseases, there is a vast and evolving science exploring the causes and behavior of cancers. This research takes place in numerous labs around the world. A cure for cancer would likely emerge from a collaboration among many researchers, in different labs and institutions, and even in different countries. Even if one lab made a significant breakthrough, it would be the capstone on top of a large body of research that was available to the entire community (and in fact the public). It would be impossible to keep other researchers from replicating the final steps that lead to a cure.

Often the hidden cure conspiracy idea is framed around the claim that a pharmaceutical company would hide such a cure to protect their profits from other cancer drugs. This claim fails not only for the reason above but for a separate practical reason. It would take about 100 millions dollars of research (if not more) to prove that a drug was actually a cure for one type of cancer (let alone all types of cancer). Why would a pharmaceutical company spend that kind of research money on a drug they know they have no intention of marketing, just so that they can suppress it? Also – where would they do such research? How could they get past all the regulatory hurdles to perform human research without revealing what they are doing?

Often those who claim that “they” are hiding a cure for cancer have only a vague notion of who “they” are. They generally have an image of the “medical establishment” as monolithic, but nothing could be further from the truth. The medical establishment is composed of universities, professional organizations, journals, regulatory agencies, researchers, funding agencies, and countless individuals – all with differing incentives and perspectives. The idea that they would all be in on a massive conspiracy to hide perhaps the greatest cure known to mankind is beyond absurd.

For those who think the profit motive is sufficient explanation, not all of the people and institutions named are for profit. And what about countries with socialized medicine who could dramatically reduce their health care costs if a cancer cure were found? Is Canada, the UK, all of the European Union, in fact, in on the conspiracy to protect American cancer treatment profits? It’s as if hidden cure conspiracy theorists forget that there are other countries in the world.

Hidden cancer cure conspiracies also are premised on a simplistic notion of how medicine and medical research progresses. The practice of medicine is constantly evolving in a process of creative destruction. New technologies render older ones obsolete. Resources ebb and flow to diseases as they emerge and are reduced or cured. There used to be entire hospitals dedicated to the chronic treatment of tuberculosis – and now, after antibiotics, those hospitals have been repurposed. Researchers, specialists, hospital space, and other resources shift over time to where they are needed.

If a cure for cancer were discovered it would not be as disruptive as is claimed by the conspiracy theorists. It would take years if not decades of research to explore how effective the treatment was for every type, grade, and stage of cancer. We could not assume that it cured all cancer even if it cured one type. And what about people who did not respond to the treatment, or could not tolerate it for some reason? (One might assume a 100% effective and side effect free cure for all cancer, but this gets progressively more unlikely.) Further, any real breakthrough cure would likely tell us something profound about the nature of cancer itself, and this would spawn entire research programs.

Research funding and researchers themselves would shift their focus where it was needed. Some might shift their skills to other diseases entirely, and perhaps fewer doctors and researchers would go into cancer research if a cure were already found. As with any other significant medical advance, the medical infrastructure would adapt.

Conspiracy theorists also tend to ignore the huge incentive to find a cure. For the researchers involved, it would mean fame, fortune, Nobel prizes and an enduring legacy within the halls of medicine. It is safe to say that it is every cancer researcher’s dream to be part of the team that finds the cure for cancer (or at least as big a breakthrough as is plausible).

The institution would also gain fame and prestige, which translates into more donations, better applicants, and also part ownership of any patents. A company that discovered the cure for cancer would make billions, even if it meant it would make existing drugs obsolete. Patents on drugs are finite, so companies are always looking for new drugs anyway. And imagine the public relations boon for the company that cured cancer – their name would forever be “Pharmaceutical Company – We Cured Cancer!” Even if the new treatment could not be patented, it would still be an enduring profit stream for the original company to market it – it would become their Tylenol, only bigger.

And of course the health care systems around the world would rejoice at the potential reduction in health care costs, which are now threatening to cripple the system. Doctors, hospitals, researchers – pretty much everyone, is making less money than they were a couple decades ago because of rising health care costs. The system is now being threatened by further cuts and restrictions to tame rising costs. A significant reduction in overall costs, by curing an expensive disease, would ease the pressure on the entire system, and free up resources for other diseases.

Finally, there is the human element. A hidden cure would require individual people to know that a cure for cancer is available but to deny this cure to dying patients in order to protect their or someone else’s profit. There may be people in the world who are that callous and evil, but think of all the people who would have to be that evil, over years or decades, to maintain a hidden cure. These are people who also have loved-ones who are likely to get cancer at some point in their lives, and who themselves are at risk for cancer. I would not casually assume that the medical establishment is full with such cartoonish maniacal villains.

Conclusion

The grand conspiracy of the hidden cancer cure is a meme that I wish would go away, but for some reason persists. It is like an urban legend – it appeals to some ill-formed fear or anxiety produced by the complexity of modern society. It gives a focus to these anxieties, and gives the illusion of control. No one wants to feel as if they are being deceived, and so assuming there is a conspiracy feels like a good way to avoid being duped. But ironically it is the conspiracy theorists who are being duped, or who are doing the deceiving.

The notion of a hidden cure is also dependent on seeing institutions with which one is not personally familiar as faceless and monolithic organizations, comprised of obedient drones. But these institutions are made of people – ordinary people with flaws and feelings and families just like everyone else.

Posted in: Cancer

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30 thoughts on “The Hidden Cancer Cure

  1. windriven says:

    “Given that cancer is such a complex set of diseases, there is a vast and evolving science exploring the causes and behavior of cancers…”

    I think you touched the soft spot with that phrase. Many of the cancer quacks and cancer conspiracy nuts that I’ve encountered do not understand the concept that cancer is a complex set of diseases. They think of cancer as a unitary disease that simply appears in various places.

    My larger conjecture is that all woo is a manifestation of ignorance on the one hand and a willingness to exploit that ignorance on the other. It is one thing to accept that snake-oil salesmen and store front medicine men greedily exploit the ignorant. It is quite another to recognize that some physicians, universities and medical centers are greedily muscling in on their grift.

  2. Wholly Father says:

    It happens in research labs within universities and pharmaceutical companies everyday.

    “Today we discovered a cure for cancer! In this breakthrough we can bring great fame and fortune to ourselves and our institution, earn a place in history for one of the greatest scientific advances of all time, a likely trip to Sweden to claim the Nobel Prize, followed by an interview on Oprah, plus we can extend and improve the lives of millions of people, including members of our own families, and potentially ourselves. Our overlords will not be pleased. It will be our little secret.”

  3. chaos4zap says:

    My roommate has a “massage therapist” that comes over once a week and just floods the house with his non-sense. This guy is the epitome of Quack. I don’t deal with him directly, but just those few times where I walk past the room and hear what he is saying to my roommate is enough to drive me crazy. He always talks about how he talked one of his other “patients” off their meds and got them to flush the toxins out of their body. I’m not a violent person, but being face to face with someone that is so obviously clueless and lost in his deluded B.S. sense of self-worth, has a way of making mr.hand into mr. clenched fist. Relax…I would never take a swing. I couldn’t help myself one day and (to finally get to the relevance to this article) when he was insisting that Diabetes was cured over a decade ago and that the medical establishment suppresses it to make sure that cash cow stays afloat. He kept going on and on about how the cure had something to do with pigs and something found in them. I do believe that insulin does (or at least did at one time) come from pigs, but this guy is way over the top. He kept talking about research that proves all this, but failed to be able to provide any specific references. I can’t wait until this country finally gets around to recognizing these quacks are a major risk and start to crack down on them. It’s far too easy to play “Doctor” in this country. Sorry for the ranting nature of this comment, this article just got me so fired up for one reason or another this morning.

  4. CarolM says:

    “but being face to face with someone that is so obviously clueless and lost in his deluded B.S. sense of self-worth,”

    I’m reminded of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, doctorin’ up all comers. One of the funniest episodes…doctorin’ was her calling in life.

    Seriously, cui bono should be a logical fallacy. Sometimes I think that people who claim that some horrible outcome was planned because it worked to [someone's] benefit really does not believe it totally, but needs an elaborate roundabout way to express cynicism. But the uneducated fall for it, and can’t discern whether it really benefited anyone anyway.

  5. Carol – it is a logical fallacy, a special case of the argument from final consequences. Because someone benefited from X, they must have caused X. It is based upon the false premise that someone could not benefit from something they did not cause, which of course is not valid.

  6. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Published by Steven Novella
    It would take about 100 millions dollars of research (if not more) to prove that a drug was actually a cure for one type of cancer (let alone all types of cancer). Why would a pharmaceutical company spend that kind of research money on a drug they know they have no intention of marketing, just so that they can suppress it?

    Other than the obvious possibility that they don’t think these things through, they might be projecting fallacious authority or special knowledge onto their enemies.

    CAM users seem to think that the sellers of that bunk somehow know that it works without having done that fascist “science” stuff, so they probably also think that Merck somehow just knows how to cure cancer without doing the extensive and expensive research you described.

    And imagine the public relations boon for the company that cured cancer – their name would forever be “Pharmaceutical Company – We Cured Cancer!”

    And the effect of such an announcement on a “big pharma” CEO’s stock would probably be a lot more than the 4-5% dividend they were collecting from those “greedy” chemo sales.

  7. Chris says:

    Dr. Novella wrote:

    He believes that Royal Rife cured cancer 70 years ago. Rife was essentially a copycat of Albert Abrams who promoted his radio frequency devices. The concept is to use radio waves to alter the vibrations of cells in the body.

    The Dateline program on Somers and her preferred cancer doctors show a screen shot of this blog! It also had an interesting discovery about the hair analysis tests ordered by “coffee enemas are good for you” Gonzalez. I see your Royal Rife and raise you one radionics by intuition (video link).

  8. pmoran says:

    This is the only conspiracy in which the conspirators would have to be working directly against their own interests and those of their loved ones.

    Who wants to die of cancer, having “suppressed” its cure? It is absurd in so many ways.

  9. pmoran says:

    And what about countries with socialized medicine who could dramatically reduce their health care costs if a cancer cure were found?

    That’s not obviously so, even if the cure was cheap. The cured patients would live on to incur other costs, even other cancers.

  10. windriven says:

    Wait a minute, what’s the big secret with the cure for cancer? Various homeopaths, chiropractors, other great healers who have freed themselves from the manacles of so-called scientific medicine have been curing cancer for years. Cast off your liver flukes! Load up on apricot pits! Have an adjustment. Live the good life :-)

  11. Khym Chanur says:

    And what about countries with socialized medicine who could dramatically reduce their health care costs if a cancer cure were found?

    Well, logically the conspirators must have some amazing methods to prevent whistle blowers. I mean, with people involved in organized crime there’s the threat of death if anyone talks, yet that doesn’t keep all the relevant people quite, so Big Pharma has something even more effective then death threats to keep people quite. And if it’s that effective, why couldn’t they use it on people outside of America? Big Pharma just sidles up to researchers where medicine is socialized, say “if you publish a cure for cancer then [insert amazingly effective threat”, and *poof*, big pharma has silenced the entire world.

    This is the only conspiracy in which the conspirators would have to be working directly against their own interests and those of their loved ones.

    Well, presumably the conspirators use the real cure for cancer on themselves and their loved ones, and then fake evidence to make it look like they and their loved ones suffer from cancer at the same rate as everyone else.

  12. lazarus sleeping says:

    Question:

    If this is such a far reaching and all encompassing conspiracy, carefully planned and executed by some of the most powerful forces on the planet ( I’m sure the Masons and Illuminati are involved) how did this guy find out? And isn’t he afraid of the highly trained para-military hit squad that surely must be on their way to silence him and erase his existence now that he has talked?

  13. I agree that if you cure a patient they will live to die of something else. But cancer is a very expensive disease to diagnose, treat, and monitor. I’m not aware of any hard analysis, but my guess is that it would be cheaper to die of a heart attack or stroke than cancer.

    But either way, the argument undercuts the conspiracy theorists. Their premise is that treating cancer is expensive and curing cancer easily is cheaper and would therefore reduce profit. If their premise is correct, then there are those that would be motivated to use the cure to cut costs. If their premise is false, then they have no argument.

  14. Draal says:

    But nobody wants to cure cancer. Too many researchers earn a living seeking a cure by remaining inside a narrow, restricted channel of dogma. Their institutions get grant money and survive from the funding.

    That’s such a stupid argument since researchers would research something else if cancer was cured. Say cancer was cured, does that argument then extend to every successive top funded field of study?

  15. Josie says:

    @chaos4zap

    Your roomie’s whack-job masseur might have heard ‘something’ about research into porcine islets being encapsulated and transplanted into diabetic animals. There is also ongoing research to improve human-to-human islet transplantation that frees a diabetic from insulin shots/pumps.

    In the former, no immunosupression would be needed in theory because of the encapsulation device. In the latter there would be immunosuppression required just like for any transplant.

    Neither method produces permanent results. The cells eventually die or succumb to the host’s immune system. Some cure eh?

    If only a cure for diabetes were simple and defined only as freedom from insulin dependance. It isn’t.

  16. Enkidu says:

    A good friend of mine just went in for her second cancer-related surgery in 2 years. She will be starting chemo again soon. She is a fellow scientist, and has family who are medical professionals. If someone were to tell me there was a cure to cancer that researchers/government/pharma are hiding, it would be hard for me not to punch them in the face.

  17. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Enkidu on 23 Feb 2011 at 9:55 pm
    If someone were to tell me there was a cure to cancer that researchers/government/pharma are hiding, it would be hard for me not to punch them in the face.

    I will bring the camera if you want to test the legal system on a face punch for stupidity. So far I think only Buzz Aldrin has pulled it off.

  18. trrll says:

    I’ve always thought that the notion of a suppressed cancer cure was about the stupidest conspiracy theory ever. Cancer is one of the more common diseases, to the point that nearly everybody has had a loved one dying of cancer, or are facing their own death. So there would be a constant clamor of the people “in the know” to use the secret cure for themselves or their family, and presumably a constant struggle to cover up such security breaches. And then there are all of the researchers not “in the know” who are searching for a cure. If there is really a simple cancer cure, then researchers must be constantly rediscovering it. So the cure would have to be continuously re-suppressed. Moreover, if you talk to young scientists who are interested in studying cancer, one of the most common formative experiences is having a friend or close family member die of cancer. These are not people who would be willing to accept a cover-up if they made such a discovery (not to mention that a cure would make them personally rich and famous, whatever the consequences for the cancer-treeatment “industry”). The only way to silence them up would be by assassination. So now we have an ongoing effort to assassinate the best and brightest researchers in the field, and of course all of those murders would themselves have to be covered up….

  19. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Many of those suppressed cancer cures can be found in the book reviewed by Orac in Natural Cancer Treatments That Work: A wretched hive of scum and quackery. It contains about 350 treatments, which constitutes maybe a fifth of all alternative cures for cancer.

    The logic leading to the myth of suppression is of course 1. this cure works evidently 2. but evidently almost nobody uses it 3. so someone must have suppressed it. (This argument repeated for each of 1500 quack methods). Of course there is no proof for premise 1.

  20. Brookster says:

    I remember one commentator making the point that the tobacco companies would be *extremely* interested in getting their hands on a cure for cancer.

    But then who would win in a battle between Big Pharma and Big Tobacco? Only one way to find out … FIGHT!!

  21. Alexie says:

    I am within a week of finishing my radiotherapy treatments. This afternoon, I had coffee with acquaintance whose sister has been diagnosed with cervical cancer, but who has chosen to be treated with a Rife machine instead of surgery and chemo.

    It was a weird conversation. She secretly thinks I’m a victim of the industrial-medical complex, which duped me into the filthy but profitable triumvirate of poison, cut and burn. So she was being very tactful and cautious about what she said to me.

    I was being tactful and cautious back in what I said, because I think her sister is a MORON for trusting her life to a man with a bogus machine.

  22. Costner says:

    Oh you didn’t hear? My favorite antivaxer proclaimed that baking soda can cure cancer 100%. Who knew?

    http://lowellhubbs.blogspot.com/2010/09/lowell-hubbs-self-proclaimed-medical.html

    http://www.lowellsfacts.com/Baking_Soda_Cure__Cancer.html

    Obviously the Noble Prize Committee has overlooked this miracle, but all in due time I suppose.

  23. Chris says:

    Costner, thanks for that website! I have run into that guy a couple of times, and am presently going through the blogspot posts. Hilarious!

  24. arkhanghell says:

    Since I got cancer last year I’ve heard a lot of this nonsense, specially from my woo addict mom. The latest was something that I had heard a couple of times before; that in Cuba researches had the “cure” of cancer based on the blue scorpion venom. A close friend of my mom says he actually went to Cuba to get the “medicine” (for free) for his wife who died of cancer recently, and another friend says she’s getting the same “medicine” for her son with leukemia (i think) from a Doctor here in Mexico. I quickly googled this thing and found a lot of the same stories which seemed to be from woo sites, but I found an article or two which seemed to indicate that it had some tumor shrinking properties. This whole matter stinks like woo to me, but since I’m no expert in this whole thing, I wonder if anyone of you guys could please take the time to debunk or confirm this one…

  25. mdcatdad says:

    My response to this conspiracy thinking is: “So, how come doctors (and their family members) still die of cancer?

  26. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    My favorite antivaxer proclaimed that baking soda can cure cancer 100%. Who knew?

    This is the notorious Tullio Simoncini. You can read more about him on
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/08/a_fungus_among_us_in_oncology.php

    On
    http://www.kwakzalverij.nl/681/De_kankertherapie_van_Dottor_Tullio_Simoncini_uit_Rome
    you can find more details. Click on the link for an English pdf.

    On March 24, 2010 the Dutch District Attorney announced that the case about the Dutch lady (Sylvia Trachler, 58) was dropped. Trachsler died in the Netherlands on October 8, 2007, after having been treated between October 4 and 7, 2007 with sodium bicarbonate. The reason was that Trachsler had received potassium tablets to compensate for the drop in potassium because of the sodium bicarbonate. It could not be established whether the cause of death was an overdose of potassium or the bicarbonate treatment.

    Dutch prosecutors don’t like medical cases because they are unfamiliar with medicine. One problem is that the Health Inspectorate (that should have the same role as the police for ordinary crimes) is also averse to take action against quacks. They feel that their main task is monitoring real medicine, and people who go to quacks should know the risks they are taking. At best they put out warnings, but if something goes wrong, they don’t do much.

  27. TruthStorm says:

    Here is counter blogspot on Costner and the information he puts forth in his personal attacks on me. He created the blogspot on me he linked to, and created that with my name in the url. What kind of a cheap shot was that? This guy has spent over a year trying to shut my information down, and he has yet to honestly refute anything, nor honestly respond to anything. Same claims and then more denial of all. He is a Gorski clone, and he nearly worships the ground Gorski walks on. He quotes him and his work in everything he does lately. Can’t think for himself, apparently.

    http://www.costnermatthews.blogspot.com

  28. Jonathan Browne says:

    It’s obvious to me that you have not developed a real ability to think for yourself. I will go one by one through the relevant points you’ve made here.

    The first point i’d like to make though is that only fools are blaming the entire thing on a massive conspiracy. On the other hand, it’s also only fools who pretend the problems don’t exist.

    The problems in question are the massive conflict of interest that profit based medicine partakes in, and the nearly complete submission of almost all groups in our society into blind acceptance of the Rule Of Authority, which goes like this “Does the esteemed Doctor, or the esteemed institution of The American Cancer Society agree with your proposition? no? Then, of course, it can’t be true. They are eminent in their field!”

    Let me point out vigorously to you the repeated fallacy of this type of thinking and how it happens over and over. Here’s one famous example in medicine. Galen of Pergamon at one time dominated the entire field of medicine. Galen agreed with the dominating theory of the day, involving the “tides of the blood”. A man by the name of Harvey put forward a new theory about blood circulation. Harvey found out through animal vivisection the real function of the heart. Harvey originally got the inspiration from a play by Shakespeare where the playwright made the observation of the blood circulating by way of the heart. “‘I send it through the rivers of your blood,
    Even to the court, the heart, to th’seat o’ th’ brain;
    And, through the cranks and offices of man,
    The strongest nerves and small inferior veins
    From me receive that natural competency
    Whereby they live: ”

    Of course, Shakespeares observation was not taken seriously by anyone because no one ever believes artists. Interestingly, Leanardo Da Vinci had much earlier in time, already made the same discovery, and again because he was thought of as a “Crazy artist” his observations were ignored.

    Knowing this, Harvey kept his observations quiet for a long time. He finally announced it and found himself in the center of controversy with most of the medical establishment publicly denouncing him. Finally, in desperation, a doctor made the historical statement “I would rather err with Galen than be right with Harvey!”.

    Now then, let’s get to your article. Let me address one of your earlier points. While I certainly haven’t personally had any experiences with the rife machine (probably no one alive has, since it no longer exists except as machines made by various independent parties), I suspect neither do you.

    You make this quote as if it conclusively proves anything

    “The American Cancer Society has pointed out that although sound waves can produce vibrations that break glass, radio waves at the power level emitted by a Rife generator do not have sufficient energy to destroy bacteria.”

    Here, you are quoting Authority as if it somehow provides anything resembling proof. The important thing is not whether the American Cancer Society said something, it is whether the statement is scientifically true or not. Have you presented any scientific evidence that radio waves at the power level emitted by a Rife generator do not have sufficient energy to destroy bacteria? Absolutely not. You have only presented a statement by the American Cancer Society.

    Onto the next point.

    “Often the hidden cure conspiracy idea is framed around the claim that a pharmaceutical company would hide such a cure to protect their profits from other cancer drugs. This claim fails not only for the reason above but for a separate practical reason. It would take about 100 millions dollars of research (if not more) to prove that a drug was actually a cure for one type of cancer (let alone all types of cancer). Why would a pharmaceutical company spend that kind of research money on a drug they know they have no intention of marketing, just so that they can suppress it? Also – where would they do such research? How could they get past all the regulatory hurdles to perform human research without revealing what they are doing?”

    You have already given half the reason why cancer cures might be “suppressed”, and by suppressed I mean, not pursued. It does cost 100s of millions of dollars to prove that a drug is a cure for cancer so as to satisfy the FDA for approval. Absolutely. However, it does not take anywhere near that amount to find a substance or a treatment method that is effective on a large amounts of rats, and then use it in clinical trials for humans.

    This is what happens throughout the country. Many new possible treatments are discovered by researchers, or postulated to exist by researchers. Now, in order to move further from “possible treatment” to clinical trials and serious research funds, one needs to find a place to get the money from. Who does that money come from, almost invariably? Drug companies. Now think for a moment about what drug companies main concern is? They are run by CEOs. Do you think these CEOs are on some sort of humanitarian mission? Or does it seem more reasonable to think that the people they are trying to satisfy are their stock holders? You asked “How could they get past all the regulatory hurdles to perform human research without revealing what they are doing?”. The answer is: quite easily. Let me give you a personal example that I absolutely know for a fact is happening at this very moment.

    You see, my dad has mesothelioma cancer of the pleural cavity . This is a rare form of cancer cause by asbestos exposure. It is considered incurable. Of course, our family sought medical treatment. Now the first recommendation we got was to go to boston to see a highly esteemed surgeon, Dr. Sugarbaker. Dr. Sugarbakers proposed treatment was to remove an entire half of my dads lungs, followed by massive chemotherapy. The survival increase was estimated to be around a few months.

    So we decided to look elsewhere. We heard about how the University Of Pennsylvania (they get one of the highest research budgets in the US), was doing something called Photodynamic therapy for cancer treatment. You can look that up if you don’t know what it is. Anyway, my dad went and met with their medical team, and found out he was not illegible for Photodynamic therapy for his particular cancer. Instead though, they wanted to offer him to sign up for an experimental clinical trial they were running. After hearing about what it was, he decided to sign up.

    Now come to find out, what they are testing here is the use of a modified adenovirus injected into the pleural cavity right next to the cancer. The idea is that it will activate the immune system in the area causing your natural killer cells to flood the area in order to destroy the adenovirus and then recognizing the presence of the cancer threat.

    Now here’s where it gets crazy. The first person who did this clinical trail has survived from this “incurable cancer” for 17 years! My dad found this out through the nurses, otherwise he would not have found out as the results are kept confidential. They have had this treatment in clinical trial for 17 years! In 17 years they have only been able to get 30 people in this clinical trial.

    This treatment, although created at the university of Pennsylvania, is patented by the drug company Merck. For some reason, the drug company has not moved forward in any significant way with it. Instead they have kept it languishing in random university trials rather than large scale clinical trials, despite it’s effectiveness.

    Recently, the university has began clinical trials of the adenovirus combined with a classic chemotherapy drug and a a very recently developed chemotherapy drug from Merck. They have only tried this on one person so far. My dad was going to be the second, and the doctors was tremendously excited about it. The doctor nearly cried when my dad insisted he was not going to do the chemo. My dad has had the treatment and is doing quite well.

    Now why do you think the doctor cried when my dad insisted he was not going to do the chemo? The doctor does not know my dad from a hole in the wall. It is surely not because he is a very sensitive, emotional man.

    The obvious conclusion one can come to is that this research team has had on their hands a possible cure for an “incurable cancer” and the Merck drug company own the patent to it and has left them languishing in a virtual limbo.

    The reason this sort of thing happens, as opposed to certain drugs that get large scale clinical trials that take only a few years to complete and get fast tracked toward FDA approval, is because it is financial interests that run drug companies! The drug companies pay for almost all of the research, own all the patents, and choose to put out whatever they please, not for the good of the public, but of the good of their profits.

    This doesn’t even require a massive conspiracy. All it requires is a cold and apathetic pursuit of profit. The same cold apathetic pursuit of profit that the Investment Bankers engaged in. “Hey, these loan packages are clearly bad investments but lets get our friends over at the rating agencies to label them triple A and sell them for massive profits!”

    There’s no hope of a whistleblower. Where are the whistleblowers in the financial world? Those in the scheme profit generously from it and think of it in a totally detached manner. They are only quite sensibly doing what’s most profitable as they learned in business school. Those outside the scheme have no way of knowing what’s actually happening or proving any kind of “Wrongdoing”.

    If your a researcher with an idea or discovery that could possibly cure a form of cancer and your getting little to no money to bring your research anywhere close to FDA approval, how exactly do you “blow the whistle”. Even if you do make some attempt to blow the whistle you will be absolutely crushed, cut off from all funding, and ostracized from the medical world. This gets even worse when you realize that the drug companies own the actual patents to almost all research results and the researchers are all binded by NDAs. If they try to “blow the whistle”, they will be promptly sued for breach of contract.

    Okay, on to your next major point of argument.

    “The practice of medicine is constantly evolving in a process of creative destruction. New technologies render older ones obsolete. Resources ebb and flow to diseases as they emerge and are reduced or cured. There used to be entire hospitals dedicated to the chronic treatment of tuberculosis – and now, after antibiotics, those hospitals have been repurposed. Researchers, specialists, hospital space, and other resources shift over time to where they are needed.

    If a cure for cancer were discovered it would not be as disruptive as is claimed by the conspiracy theorists. ”

    I don’t think you realize the profound loss of profits that would occur if cancer was actually cured. First, if it was actually a cure, it would be demanded by everyone and be massively expensive at first until economies of scale would require it become reasonable priced. Second, if it cured the disease it would not require continuing treatment, meaning that profits could only be attained during the treatment time period. Instead of making nearly a million dollars per patient, limited only by the death of the patient, the drug company could only make a paltry amount. Third, if you were to actually cure cancer, what exactly would you be left with to make massive profits from? Heart disease is easily avoidable through prevention methods widely known by the public, and doesn’t present nearly as good a prospect for profit as it causes are for the most part, well known and treatment, quite standard. Type I diabetes is easily treated by fairly inexpensive insulin. Type II diabetes can be solved within months by a decent diet and exercise (my mom was diagnosed with it and reversed it within a few months by reducing carb intake and walking a mile a day). What other major disease are you left with?

    Aging itself? We won’t be able to make serious inroad into the process of aging through the use of drugs for perhaps another 20 or 30 years at least. It’s going to require mapping the entire proteomics process. Cancer is the only real human problem left that effects a huge percentage of the population and can garner massive profits.

    Onto your best argument, which has a kernel of truth in it.

    Conspiracy theorists also tend to ignore the huge incentive to find a cure. For the researchers involved, it would mean fame, fortune, Nobel prizes and an enduring legacy within the halls of medicine. It is safe to say that it is every cancer researcher’s dream to be part of the team that finds the cure for cancer (or at least as big a breakthrough as is plausible).

    The institution would also gain fame and prestige, which translates into more donations, better applicants, and also part ownership of any patents. A company that discovered the cure for cancer would make billions, even if it meant it would make existing drugs obsolete. Patents on drugs are finite, so companies are always looking for new drugs anyway. And imagine the public relations boon for the company that cured cancer – their name would forever be “Pharmaceutical Company – We Cured Cancer!”

    It is absolutely true that cancer researchers really do want to cure cancer. A pharmaceutical company might also dream of curing cancer with a drug, but most likely considers it a distance pipe dream.

    This is precisely because of the original premise of your article. Cancer is not a thing, persay. It describes one process, the flawed DNA replication of cells going out of control, but it manifest in countless ways. It could more accurately be called cancering, a verb, than described as a noun, since it the process is constantly happening in the body, but for various reasons it develops into a malignancy when the flawed cell does not Apoptosis (commit suicide) This doesn’t mean it is incurable, and it also seems to indicate the best method is prevention. However it does mean that a cure-all for cancer is a risky investment. It would require millions and millions applied to completely new paradigms of research on the cutting edge. Each one of these attempts would be a huge financial risk, as it is certain that most of them would not pan out.

    No CEOs of the major drug companies are going to want to take such risks. The only way they would make billions of dollars is if they were the ones who discovered the cure all for cancer.

    They don’t stand to benefit much at all from the thousands of “hidden cures”, the research that never really sees the light of day because it simply too niche, or doesn’t project as profitable in it’s current form, or competes with the drugs already being profited handsomely from.

    Now onto your final point, I won’t get into the last paragraph about how many people would be required to be “evil” in order for such a thing to occur as I feel i’ve already addressed that (they aren’t evil, but they aren’t willing to be heroes either, and chances are they don’t even realize anything is going on. Evil tends to happen like that. No one realizes what is going on until much later, Hitler is a case in point).

    “And of course the health care systems around the world would rejoice at the potential reduction in health care costs, which are now threatening to cripple the system. Doctors, hospitals, researchers – pretty much everyone, is making less money than they were a couple decades ago because of rising health care costs. The system is now being threatened by further cuts and restrictions to tame rising costs. A significant reduction in overall costs, by curing an expensive disease, would ease the pressure on the entire system, and free up resources for other diseases.”

    Two groups really in control of health care are drug companies and insurance companies. Frankly, the interests of doctors, hospitals, and researchers are of no concern to them. They both stand to benefit massively from increased health care costs and the continuation of disease. The reasons why drug companies would profit have already been discussed. Health insurance companies on the other hand are not as obvious.

    The reason for health insurance companies to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo is quite simple once you realize it. As long as health care for a disease such as cancer costs up to a million dollars, no one is going to want to be without insurance, and people will be willing to pay more for the most comprehensive insurance they can possibly get. This also provides the insurance companies with another insidious incentive. They can discourage the widespread adoption of new treatments in order to be able to charge a massive premium for anyone who desires to go “out of network”, or to simply deny paying for any treatment at all if the disease is widely considered incurable. For instance, at the time when bone marrow transplants were already known by most specialists to be a proven and highly effective treatment, insurance companies were still for many years able to get away with regarding it as “experimental” and denying coverage of it.

    I hope you can see past your own prejudice into the clear logic of this situation.

    I would also like you to consider the fact that while many “alternative treatments” may be pseudoscience or “quackery” the role of nutrition in both cancer prevention and cancer treatment is being more and more discussed in medical journals. The problem is that it’s really somewhat impossible to get any sort of real funding for the study of the effects of a comprehensive nutrition and supplementation plan.

    The only thing it seems possible to acquire any sort of funding for is a reductionist study of the effects of one single nutrient. In the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell PHD. he discussed the fallacy of this approach as well as the massive conflict of interest that also exists within the field of nutrition science, with industry groups funding scientists to produce skewed results and spending huge amounts of money to inaccurately influence government and public perceptions about nutrition. This guy was on the Public Nutrition Information Committee and then was pushed out as a result of questioning the scientific findings. He was the only one one the commitee who was not hand picked by industry cronies because he was there at the behest of the director of the FASEB public affairs office.

    He makes the following point of how the situation is analogous to that surrounding cigarettes and health. “When scientific evidence first emerged to show that cigarettes were dangerous, there were hordes of health professionals who vigorously defended smoking. For example, the Journal of American Medical Association continued to advertise tobacco products, and many others played their part to staunchly defend tobacco use. In many cases, these scientists were motivated by understandable caution. But there were quite a few others, particularly as the evidence against tobacco mounted, whose motivations were clearly personal bias and greed.”

  29. Jonathan – you are correct -anecdote, rumor, and cynicism is a far more reliable source than a scientific organization.

    And your logic is impeccable – insurance companies want to spend billions of dollars on cancer treatment so that people will continue to buy health insurance – because without cancer, no one would need insurance. Those greedy bastards.

    I also like your shifting definition – suppression is now the same thing as not researching in the first place. And how, again, is Merck keeping cancer researchers around the world from pursuing viral therapy?

    The National Cancer Institute would be surprised to learn that they don’t fund cancer research.

  30. Chris says:

    Jonathan Browne:

    It’s obvious to me that you have not developed a real ability to think for yourself. I will go one by one through the relevant points you’ve made here.

    So we know who exactly this very long screed is for, can you tell us who you are directing this to with the “you”? It is not clear if you are addressing Dr. Novella or one of the many commenters on this thread.

    Oh, and it really makes many of us ignore you completely with a comment that we cannot think for ourselves.

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