Stephen Barrett, M.D.


Questionable Cancer Therapies … part 2

List of alternative anti cancer methods – first part is here


Kelley/Gonzalez Metabolic Therapy

In the 1960s, William Donald Kelley, D.D.S. (1925-2005), developed a program for cancer patients that involved dietary measures, vitamin and enzyme supplements, and computerized „metabolic typing.“ Kelley classified people as „sympathetic dominant,“ „parasympathetic dominant,“ or metabolically „balanced“ and made dietary recommendations for each type. He claimed that his „Protein Metabolism Evaluation Index“ could diagnose cancer before it was clinically apparent and that his „Kelley Malignancy Index could detect „the presence or absence of cancer, the growth rate of the tumor, the location of the tumor mass, prognosis of the treatment, age of the tumor and the regulation of medication for treatment.“

In 1970, Kelley was enjoined from practicing medicine without a license after witnesses testified that he had diagnosed lung cancer on the basis of blood from a patient’s finger and prescribed dietary supplements, enzymes, and a diet as treatment. In 1976, following unsuccessful court appeals, his dental license was suspended for five years [37]. However, he continued to promote his methods until the mid-1980s through his Dallas-based International Health Institute. Under the institute’s umbrella, licensed professionals and „certified metabolic technicians“ throughout the United States would administer a 3,200-item questionnaire and send the answers to Dallas. The resultant computer printout provided a lengthy report on „metabolic status“ plus detailed instructions covering foods, supplements (typically 100 to 200 pills per day), „detoxification“ techniques, and lifestyle changes.

Treatment said to be similar is still provided today by Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D., of New York City, who claims to have analyzed Kelley’s records and drafted a book about his findings. The manuscript was never published, but experts who evaluated its chapter on 50 cases found no evidence of benefit. Gonzalez says that he offers „10 basic diets with 90 variations“ and typically prescribes coffee enemas and „up to 150 pills a day in 10 to 12 divided doses.“

In 1994, after investigating six of Gonzalez’s cases, New York State licensing authorities had concluded: (a) his „alternative protocol“ did not entitle him to an alternative standard of care; (b) he had failed to correctly interpret signs and symptoms of disease progression, (c) he had treated the patients incompetently, and (d) his record-keeping was inadequate. He placed on probation for three years with a stipulation that he undergo retraining and his work be supervised by the Office of Professional Conduct. [Download documentation]

In 1997, a jury in New York City awarded $2.5 million in actual damages and $150,000 in punitive damages to a former Gonzalez patient. The woman testified that she had been diagnosed with an early stage of uterine cancer in 1991 and underwent a hysterectomy. Instead of following through with medically recommended radiation and chemotherapy, she consulted Gonzalez who discouraged her from following her cancer specialist’s advice. Based on his interpretation of a hair test, Gonzalez prescribed up to 150 dietary supplement pills a day plus frequent coffee enemas. Later he claimed that the cancer was cured even though it was progressing. It eventually damaged her spine and left her blind. An appeals court upheld the $2.5 million verdict but dismissed the punitive damage award. In April 2000, a jury awarded $282,000 in damages to the husband of a 40-year-old college professor who had died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1995. According to an article in The New York Daily News, the jury found him negligent because he failed to arrange „appropriate testing“ to track the cancer, relying instead on an unproven method of hair analysis [38].



Laetrile, which achieved great notoriety during the 1970s and early 1980s, is the trade name for a synthetic relative of amygdalin, a chemical in the kernels of apricot pits, apple seeds, bitter almonds, and some other stone fruits and nuts. Many laetrile promoters have called it „vitamin B17“ and falsely claimed that cancer is a vitamin deficiency disease that laetrile can cure. Claims for laetrile’s efficacy have varied considerably [39]. First it was claimed to prevent and cure cancer. Then it was claimed not to cure, but to „control“ cancer while giving patients an increased feeling of well being. More recently, laetrile has been claimed to be effective, not by itself, but as one component of „metabolic therapy“ (described below).

Laetrile was first used to treat cancer patients in California in the 1950s. According to proponents, it kills tumor cells selectively while leaving normal cells alone. Although laetrile has been promoted as safe and effective, clinical evidence indicates that it is neither [40]. When subjected to enzymatic breakdown in the body, it forms glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide [41]. Some cancer patients treated with laetrile have suffered nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness, and a few have died from cyanide poisoning. Laetrile has been tested in at least 20 animal tumor models and found to have no benefit either alone or together with other substances. Several case reviews have found no benefit for the treatment of cancer in humans.

In response to political pressure, a clinical trial was begun in 1982 by the Mayo Clinic and three other U.S. cancer centers under NCI sponsorship. Laetrile and „metabolic therapy“ were administered as recommended by their promoters. The patients had advanced cancer for which no proven treatment was known. Of 178 patients, not one was cured or stabilized, and none had any lessening of any cancer-related symptoms. The median survival rate was about five months from the start of therapy. In those still alive after seven months, tumor size had increased. Several patients experienced symptoms of cyanide toxicity or had blood levels of cyanide approaching the lethal range [42].

In 1975, a class action suit was filed to stop the FDA from interfering with the sale and distribution of laetrile. Early in the case, a federal district court judge in Oklahoma issued orders allowing cancer patients to import a six-month supply of laetrile for personal use if they could obtain a physician’s affidavit that they were „terminal.“ In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is not possible to be certain who is terminal and that even if it were possible, both terminally ill patients and the general public deserve protection from fraudulent cures. In 1987, after further appeals were denied, the district judge (a strong proponent of laetrile) finally yielded to the higher courts and terminated the affidavit system [39]. Few sources of laetrile are now available within the United States, but it still is utilized at several Mexican clinics.


Livingston-Wheeler Regimen

Virginia C. Livingston, M.D., who died in 1990, postulated that cancer is caused by a bacterium she called Progenitor cryptocides, which invades the body when „immunity is stressed or weakened.“ She claimed to combat this by strengthening the body’s immune system with vaccines (including one made from the patient’s urine); „detoxification“ with enemas; digestive enzymes; a vegetarian diet that avoided chicken, eggs, and sugar; vitamin and mineral supplements; visualization; and stress reduction. She claimed to have a very high recovery rate but published no clinical data to support this. Scientists who attempted to isolate the organism she postulated found that it was a common skin bacterium. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center compared 78 of its patients with similar patients treated at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic. All had advanced cancers for which no proven treatment was known. As expected, the study found no difference in average survival time of the two groups. However, Livingston-Wheeler patients reported more appetite difficulties and pain [43]. The treatment Livingston originated is now offered at the Livingston Foundation Medical Center in San Diego.



Macrobiotics is a quasireligious philosophical system that advocates a semivegetarian diet. („Macrobiotic“ means „way of long life.“) Macrobiotic diets have been promoted for maintaining general health and for preventing and „relieving“ cancer and other diseases. The optimal diet is said to balance „yin“ and „yang“ foods. It is composed of whole grains (50 to 60% of each meal), vegetables (25 to 30% of each meal), whole beans or soybean-based products (5 to 10% of daily food), nuts and seeds (small amounts as snacks), miso soup, herbal teas, and small amounts of white meat or seafood once or twice weekly. Some macrobiotic diets contain adequate amounts of nutrients, but others do not.

Macrobiotic practitioners may base their recommendations on „pulse diagnosis“ and other unscientific procedures related to Chinese medicine [44]. Pulse diagnosis supposedly involves six pulses at each wrist that correspond to twelve internal spheres of bodily function. Other diagnostic methods include „ancestral diagnosis,“ „astrological diagnosis,“ „aura and vibrational diagnosis,“ „environmental diagnosis“ (including consideration of celestial influences“ and tidal motions), and „spiritual diagnosis“ (an evaluation of „atmospheric vibrational conditions“ to identify spiritual influences, including „visions of the future“).

Today’s leading proponent is Michio Kushi, founder and president of the Kushi Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. According to Institute publications, the macrobiotic way of life should include chewing food at least 50 times per mouthful (or until it becomes liquid), not wearing synthetic or woolen clothing next to the skin, avoiding long hot baths or showers, having large green plants in your house to enrich the oxygen content of the air, and singing a happy song every day. Kushi claims that cancer is largely due to improper diet, thinking, and way of life, and can be influenced by changing these factors. He recommends yin foods for cancers due to excess yang, and yang foods for tumors that are predominantly yin. His books contain case histories of people whose cancers have supposedly disappeared after they adopted macrobiotic eating. However, the only reports of efficacy are testimonials by patients, many of whom received responsible therapy [45]. The diet itself can cause cancer patients to undergo serious weight loss [46]. In July 2001, Kushi’s wife and colleague Aveline died of cervical cancer. According to an Associated Press obituary, she underwent standard radiation treatment when the cancer was discovered. When the cancer spread to her bones and she was told that no standard treatment was available, relied on acupuncture and „Eastern“ methods [47].


Metabolic Therapy

Proponents of „metabolic therapy“ claim to diagnose abnormalities at the cellular level and correct them by normalizing the patient’s metabolism. They regard cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other „degenerative“ diseases as the result of metabolic imbalance caused by a buildup of „toxic substances“ in the body. They claim that scientific practitioners merely treat the symptoms of the disease while they treat the cause by removing „toxins“ and strengthening the immune system so the body can heal itself. The „toxins“ are neither defined nor objectively measurable. „Metabolic“ treatment regimens vary from practitioner to practitioner and may include a „natural food“ diet, coffee enemas, vitamins, minerals, glandulars, enzymes, laetrile, and various other nostrums that are not legally marketable in the United States. No scientific study has ever shown that „metabolic therapy“ or any of its components is effective against cancer or any other serious disease.

The most visible proponent of „metabolic therapy“ was Harold Manner, Ph.D., a biology professor who announced in 1977 that he had cured cancer in mice with injections of laetrile, enzymes, and vitamin A. (Actually, he digested the tumors by injecting them with digestive enzymes, which cannot cure cancers that have metastasized.) During the early 1980s, Manner left his teaching position and became affiliated with a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. Although he claimed a 74% success rate in treating cancers, there is no evidence that he kept track of patients after they left his clinic [48]. He died in 1988, but the clinic is still operating.


Pau D’arco

Pau d’arco tea, sold through health food stores and by mail, is also called taheebo, lapacho, lapacho morado, ipe roxo, or ipes. The tea is claimed to be an ancient Inca Indian remedy prepared from the inner bark of various species of Tabebuia, an evergreen tree native to the West Indies and Central and South America. However, stories about its origins contain geographic and botanical errors. Proponents claim that pau d’arco tea is effective against cancer and many other ailments. Tabebuia woods contains lapachol, which has been demonstrated to have antitumor activity in a few animal tumor models. However, no published study has shown a significant effect on cancer in humans. Studies during the early 1970s found that lapachol is not as readily absorbed by humans as by rats, and that plasma levels high enough to influence tumors would be accompanied by anticoagulant effects. Even low doses can cause nausea and vomiting and can interfere with blood clotting [49]. Some researchers believe that lapachol should be studied further using vitamin K to inhibit its anticoagulant activity.

Psychic Surgery

Psychic surgery is claimed to remove tumors without leaving a skin wound. Actually, its practitioners use sleight-of-hand to create the illusion that surgery is being performed. A false finger or thumb may be used to store a red dye that appears as „blood“ when the skin is „cut.“ Animal parts or cotton wads soaked in the dye are palmed and then exhibited as „diseased organs“ supposedly removed from the patient’s body. (However, one Philippine „healer“ has been reported to use human blood, which raises the possibility that HIV or hepatitis B could be transmitted.) The American Cancer Society has concluded that „all demonstrations to date of psychic surgery have been done by various forms of trickery.“ [50] Most „psychic surgeons“ practice in the Philippines or Brazil, but some have made tours within the United States. A few have been prosecuted for theft and/or practicing medicine without a license [51].


Psychologic Methods

Various psychologic methods are being promoted to cancer patients as cures or adjuncts to other treatment. The techniques include imagery, visualization, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and various forms of psychotherapy. These techniques may reduce stress, alleviate depression, help control pain, and enhance patients’ feelings of mastery and control. Individual and group support can have a positive impact on quality of life and overall attitude. A positive attitude may increase a patient’s chance of surviving cancer by increasing compliance with proven treatment. However, it has not been demonstrated that emotions directly influence the course of the disease.

Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of Love, Medicine & Miracles and Peace, Love & Healing, claims that „happy people generally don’t get sick“ and that „one’s attitude toward oneself is the single most important factor in healing or staying well.“ Siegel also states that „a vigorous immune system can overcome cancer if it is not interfered with, and emotional growth toward greater self-acceptance and fulfillment helps keep the immune system strong.“ However, he has published no scientific study supporting these claims. A 10-year study co-authored by Siegel found that 34 breast cancer patients participating in his program did not live longer after diagnosis than comparable nonparticipants. The program consisted of weekly peer support and family therapy, individual counseling, and the use of positive imagery [52]. In November 1998, Siegel sent a series of email messages to Dr. Barrett in which he said that the study bearing his name had been done by a student and was improperly designed.

O. Carl Simonton, M.D., claimed that cancers can be affected by relaxation and visualization techniques. He claimed that this approach can lessen fears and tension, strengthen the patient’s will to live, increase optimism, and alter the course of a malignancy by strengthening the immune system. However, he never published the results of any well-designed study testing his ideas. Simonton theorized that the brain can stimulate endocrine glands to inspire the immune system to attack cancer cells. He and his wife Stephanie (a psychotherapist) taught cancer patients to imagine their cancer being destroyed by their white blood cells. However, there is no evidence that white cells actually attack cancer cells in this manner or that „immune suppression“ is a factor in the development of common cancers.

Simonton’s book Getting Well Again included reports on patients who got better after using his methods. However, an analysis of five of the reports that might seem most impressive to laypersons noted that two of the patients had undergone standard treatment, one had a slow-growing tumor, and one probably did not have cancer. The fifth patient’s tumor was treatable by standard means [53].

Some people suggest that Simonton’s program may have positive effects by helping people to relax and to feel that they are „doing something“ positive. Although this approach is physically harmless, it can waste people’s time and money and encourage some to abandon effective care. It can also cause people to feel ashamed or guilty that some inner inadequacy caused them to develop cancer and is interfering with their recovery. Patients seeking a support program should select one that is based on scientific principles and has competent professional supervision.


Revici Cancer Control

Revici Cancer Control (also called lipid therapy and „biologically guided chemotherapy“) is based on the notion that cancer is caused by an imbalance between constructive („anabolic“) and destructive („catabolic“) body processes. Its main proponent, Emanuel Revici, M.D., prescribed lipid alcohols, zinc, iron, and caffeine, which he classified as anabolic, and fatty acids, sulfur, selenium, and magnesium, which he classified as catabolic. His formulations were based on his interpretation of the specific gravity, pH (acidity), and surface tension of single samples of the patient’s urine. Scientists who have offered to evaluate Revici’s methods were unable to reach an agreement with him on procedures to ensure a valid test [54]. However, his method of urinary interpretation is obviously not valid. The specific gravity of urine reflects the concentration of dissolved substances and depends largely on the amount of fluid a person consumes. The acidity depends mainly on diet, but varies considerably throughout the day. Thus, even when these values are useful for a metabolic determination, information from a single urine sample would be meaningless. The surface tension of urine has no medically recognized diagnostic value. In 1993, following a lengthy struggle with New York State licensing authorities, Revici’s medical license was permanently revoked. He died in January 1998 at the age of 101.



714X is a chemical solution produced in Quebec by Gaston Naessens, who also operates the International Academy of Somatidian Orthobiology. He claims that 714X can „fluidify the lymph“ and „direct nitrogen into the cancerous cells in order to stop their toxic secretions which block the organism’s defense system.“ 714X has been analyzed by the Canadian Health Protection Branch and found to contain a mixture of camphor, ammonium chloride and nitrate, sodium chloride, ethyl alcohol, and water. The Health Protection Branch has received no scientific data to support claims that 714X can cure cancer or AIDS. Its Expert Advisory Committee has deplored its use for these purposes and warned that there could be adverse side effects [55]. In 1956, in connection with alleged cancer remedy called GN-24, Naessens was convicted of illegal medical practice and ordered by a French court to pay the maximum applicable fine. He was prosecuted again in 1964 after another alleged cancer remedy he administered in Corsica was proven not to work [56].


Shark Cartilage

Powdered shark cartilage is purported to contain a protein that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels needed for the spread of cancer. Although a modest anti-angiogenic effect has been observed in laboratory experiments, it has not been demonstrated that feeding shark cartilage to humans significantly inhibits angiogenesis in patients with cancer. Even if direct applications were effective, oral administration would not work because the protein would be digested rather than absorbed intact into the body. (If the proteins could enter the body, they would cause an immune response that would make the individual allergic to them and could trigger disastrous allergic responses with further exposure to the protein.)

Nevertheless, in the spring of 1993, „60 Minutes“ aired a program promoting the claims of biochemist/entrepreneur I. William Lane, Ph.D., author of the book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer. The program highlighted a Cuban study of 29 „terminal“ cancer patients who received shark-cartilage preparations. Narrator Mike Wallace filmed several of the patients doing exercise and reported that most of them felt better several weeks after the treatment had begun. The fact that „feeling better“ does not indicate whether a cancer treatment is effective was not mentioned. Nor was the fact that sharks do get cancer, even of their cartilage. NCI officials subsequently reviewed the Cuban data and concluded that they were „incomplete and unimpressive.“ [57]

In May 1997, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, researchers reported a study that found shark cartilage ineffective against advanced cancer in adults with a life expectancy of at least 12 weeks. The study followed 58 people who were prescribed oral doses of shark cartilage as their only form of anti-cancer treatment. After 12 weeks, none achieved a complete or partial response to the shark cartilage treatment. Only ten showed no progression of their cancer, and only two had a quantifiable improvement in quality of life. (The fact that ten cancers did not progress is not evidence that the shark cartilage was responsible for this. The progression of cancer is not always rapid.) The researchers concluded: „Shark cartilage was inactive in patients with advanced stages of cancer, specifically in breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer.“ The study was sponsored by Cancer Treatment Research Foundation, Cartilage Technologies (a manufacturer), and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. A few months later, Cartilage Technologies announced that it would support no additional research on shark cartilage as a cancer remedy [58].

Government agencies have taken action against at least three companies marketing shark cartilage. In September 1997, the FDA warned Lane Labs-USA, of Allendale, New Jersey, to stop claiming that its shark cartilage product BeneFin can help fight cancer, arthritis, and psoriasis [59]. In December 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit intended to stop the company from continuing its illegal marketing [60]. In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission obtained two consent agreements barring unsubstantiated claims for shark-cartilage products. Nutriveda, Inc., of Brooklyn, New York, had claimed that its product Cardilet was effective against cancer, rheumatism, arthritis, diabetes, fibroids, bursitis, circulatory problems, and cysts. Body Systems Technology, of Castleberry, Florida, had advertised that its product was effective against cancer. In June 2000, the FTC announced that Dr. Lane and Lane Labs-USA had signed consent agreements to stop illegal claims for Benefin and to pay $550,000 in penalties and $450 toward the cost of an approved clinical trial involving shark cartilage [61] The trial found no benefit [62].


Vitamin C

The claim that vitamin C is useful in the treatment of cancer is largely attributable to Linus Pauling, Ph.D. During the mid-1970s, Pauling began claiming that high doses of vitamin C are effective in preventing and curing cancer. In 1976 and 1978, he and a Scottish surgeon, Ewan Cameron, reported that a group of 100 terminal cancer patients treated with 10,000 mg of vitamin C daily had survived three to four times longer than historically matched patients who did not receive vitamin C supplements [63,64]. However, Dr. William DeWys, chief of clinical investigations at the NCI, found that the patient groups were not comparable. The vitamin C patients were Cameron’s, while the other patients were managed by other physicians. Cameron’s patients were started on vitamin C when he labeled them „untreatable“ by other methods, and their subsequent survival was compared to the survival of the „control“ patients after they were labeled untreatable by their doctors. DeWys found that Cameron’s patients were labeled untreatable much earlier in the course of their disease-which meant that they entered the hospital before they were as sick as the other doctors’ patients and would naturally be expected to live longer [65]. Nevertheless, to test whether Pauling might be correct, the Mayo Clinic conducted three double-blind studies involving a total of 367 patients with advanced cancer. All three studies found that patients given 10 g of vitamin C daily did no better than those given a placebo [66-68]. Despite many years of taking huge daily amounts of vitamin C, both Pauling and his wife Ava died of cancer—she in 1981 and he in 1994.


Conspiracy Theories

Quacks typically charge that the medical profession, drug companies, the food industry, government agencies, and/or other „vested interests“ are conspiring against „natural“ cancer cures. No such conspiracy has ever been exposed. Yet many patients—especially those whom standard medicine cannot cure—embrace the notion that a small but dedicated band of rebels is defying the medical establishment by making natural cures available. And desperate patients may find it more comfortable to believe that cures are being suppressed than to feel that their situation is hopeless.

The conspiracy charge has two common scenarios. In one, opposition is based on fear of competition. In the other, a cure discovered within the establishment is suppressed. Neither of these situations makes sense [69,70]

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