Bioethics Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Here we go again: More radiation for Starchild Abraham Cherrix

I’ve written extensively before about Starchild Abraham Cherrix, the (now) 17-year-old who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when he was 15 and who, after one course of chemotherapy, refused any further evidence-based medicine in favor of the quackery known as Hoxsey therapy. His refusal led to a big legal battle in Virginia, and the court ultimately (sort of) compromised, letting Abraham go to Mississippi to be treated by a radiation oncologist with taste for alternative medicine named Dr. R. Arnold Smith, who would give him low dose radiation and an unconventional variety of immunotherapy whose efficacy is not supported by evidence, as well as allowing him to undergo Hoxsey therapy. Not too surprisingly, Abraham relapsed in January. He had to undergo more radiation therapy in January to enlarged lymph nodes under his arms.

Again, not too surprisingly, he’s now relapsed again:

Seventeen-year-old Abraham Cherrix will head back to Mississippi this weekend for a third round of radiation therapy for his Hodgkin’s disease.

His most recent scan showed a small dark spot on his right lung, for which he will receive pinpoint radiation treatment.

Abraham and his family fought the court system on the Eastern Shore last year to pursue nontraditional cancer treatment. After seeking an alternative treatment in Mexico for his lymphatic cancer in spring 2006, his parents were charged with medical neglect. Abraham was ordered by a juvenile judge to return to chemotherapy last July, a decision that made news across the globe.

In August, that decision was reversed by a court-ordered compromise in which Abraham agreed to a blend of conventional and innovative treatment.

“Innovative” treatment? The immunotherapy that Dr. Smith is administering, which he calls “belly plaques,” is not “innovative.” It isn’t even supported by decent clinical evidence. Ironically, it looks pretty painful, and ostensibly the reason that Abraham refused further chemotherapy is because he didn’t want the side effects. Sadly, once again,Abraham and his mother exhibit magical thinking in their assessment of the situation:

Abraham and his mother said they were disappointed by the most recent tumor the scan showed but pleased that the cancer did not appear anywhere else.

“I look at the bright side: There’s no other cancer, just a little spot; let’s go in and kill it,” he said in a telephone interview from his new home in the western Virginia town of Floyd.


Abraham’s first radiation treatment at the Mississippi center was last fall and focused on two tumors, one in his neck and one near his windpipe.

In December, a scan showed five new tumors, one each in the lymph nodes under his arms, one near his collarbone and two in his lower left lung. He returned to Mississippi in January for radiation.

“The cancer’s not on the level that it was before, so what we are doing is working,” Rose Cherrix said.

His cancer’s recurred three times now, and he and his mother think that what they are doing is correct? Treating this local tumor is very unlikely to cure Abraham’s cancer. Chances are, the cancer will pop up somewhere else in his body. Dr. Smith and Abraham can play a game of Whac-A-Mole with his cancer for quite a while, but he needs systemic therapy to kill the microscopic deposits of tumor that are responsible for new tumors popping up. He may even need high dose chemotherapy with a bone marrow transplant. Without chemotherapy, sooner or later Abraham’s very likely to develop massive disease, with tumors either too numerous or too large to radiate.

I hope it’s a long time before that happens. Meanwhile, every passing week in which Abraham insists on alternative medicine undergoing what is in essence effective local therapy for individual tumor deposits but ineffective systemic therapy for his cancer lowers his chances of ever making it to be old enough to drink legally

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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