Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

A Kevin Trudeau wannabe revealed?

I’ve made no secret how much contempt I have for Kevin Trudeau, whom I have likened to David Irving, at least with respect to his respect for the truth. He has made many, many millions of dollars selling books with titles like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and its followups, in which he claims that there are “natural” cures for all sorts of diseases that the usual cabal of big pharma, the AMA, and the FDA are keeping away from you–yes, you!–in order to protect the profits of big pharma and the hegemony of us “conventional” physicians. Obviously, Trudeau is a total hack who pushes quackery, but he’s a very clever hack who knows how to take advantage of the First Amendment to get around FDA orders not to advertise the quackery he was selling. In any case, It’s always guaranteed to annoy me when I see anything along the line of claims that there exist “miracle cures” that are somehow being suppressed. There may be lots of deficiencies in our system for developing and marketing new drugs, but the conspiracy-mongering claim that there’s a suppression is just plain silly. At the very least, there’s the lure of fame and the Nobel Prize for the scientist who revealed that cure.

Unless, of course, the FDA, big pharma, and AMA are threatening these scientists. Probably with the help of the Illuminati and the Masons.

The latest bit of “cancer cures ‘they’ won’t tell you about” nonsense comes from a site that’s known for its advocacy of HIV/AIDS denialism the über-crank website,

According to a 2005 poll reported by the American Cancer Society, 27% of Americans agree with the statement: “There is currently a cure for cancer but the medical industry won’t tell the public.” Another 14 percent are uncertain. Denials from cancer authorities were swift after release of the poll results.

As if this proves anything!

The fact that so many people believe that there is a cure for cancer that is being hidden by medicine means nothing. After all, the number of people believe in Bigfoot, astrology, that Elvis is still alive, or that 9/11 was an inside job should be all the evidence you need at how utterly worthless such polls are, other than to demonstrate the depressing level of credulity of the American public. But it does give you an idea where the writer of this tripe, Bill Sardi, is coming from, that is, when he isn’t pushing the quackery protection bill known as the “Health Freedom Act.” He clearly must have utter contempt for his readers to push such nonsense so blatantly. Not surprisingly, the article continues in the same vein:

The search for alternative cures for cancer wouldn’t be necessary except that modern medicine has no effective treatments for this frightful disease more than 30 years after the war on cancer was launched. A recent study shows chemotherapy only contributes to the 5-year survival of 2.3% of cancer cases. Another recent study shows cancer treatments reduce the size of tumors but spawn the development of cancer stem cells that counters the effect of treatment.

On the day a person is diagnosed with cancer, 50% of cases have already spread beyond their site of origin, which is called metastasis, the mortal form of the disease. There is no effective treatment for metastasis. Furthermore, of the remaining 50% of cases, 70-90% of these are solid tumors, mostly of the breast, prostate, lung or colon, that chemo and radiation cannot penetrate. Inevitably tumor resistance sets in, which renders chemotherapy useless and leaves the patient with a weakened immune system. So cancer patients had better start a search for alternative therapies soon after diagnosis.

Note how Sardi doesn’t cite the actual paper to document this claim about chemotherapy? Anyone want to make any bets that either that its message is a lot more complicated than it’s being represented or that it’s from a dubious journal? I tried doing some PubMed searches but was totally unable to find the actual. There just isn’t enough information there to make it possible to find the article without a hell of a lot more effort than I’m willing to put into it.

As for metastasis, medical science is well aware that metastasis is the final frontier in defeating cancer. It’s also not true, at least for a limited number of cancers, that there is no effective treatment for metastasis. For example, surgical excision of lymph node metastases in breast cancer and melanoma can be curative, as can excision of liver metastases from colorectal cancer and solid organ metastases from sarcoma. Metastatic testicular cancer can be cured with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Moreover, it’s hard to see what point Sardi is trying to make about solid tumors that haven’t metastasized being resistant to radiation and chemotherapy, given that most such solid tumors are treated with surgical excision, sometimes with postoperative chemotherapy and/or radiation, if there are no distant metastases

Not surprisingly, Sardi goes on to plug a book, which touts a number of what he terms “scientifically valid” alternative therapies, such as high dose vitamin C (which does not work), vitamin D, or the claim that “thick” blood promotes metastasis (whatever that means), all the while implying that “real” cures are being kept from you. Of course, by “scientifically valid,” Sardi seems to mean to take some science and extrapolate far beyond what the science actually says.

The main subject of his article, however, appears to be the work of Dr. Zheng Cui of Wake Forest University, which is actually quite fascinating work, although, not unexpectedly, Sardi draws conclusions from it that are either overblown or just plain wrong. Specifically, he mentions Dr. Cui’s “cancer-free” mouse, which is described on the Wake Forest website:

Scientists at Wake Forest University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, led by the Pathology Department’s Zheng Cui and Mark Willingham, have bred a colony of mice that successfully fight off cancer.

Occasional, though rare, cases of spontaneous regression in human cancers have been seen and documented in the past, but no satisfactory explanations for this phenomenon have ever been put forward.

While conducting a series of experiments with mouse sarcoma 180 (S180) cells, which form highly aggressive cancers in all normal mice, Dr. Cui and his colleagues happened upon a single mouse that surprised them with its ability to resist several forms of cancer, despite repeated injections of the sarcoma cells.

Breeding the mouse produced offspring that also exhibited cancer resistance, suggesting a likely genetic link.

The cancer-fighting trait appeared to decline as the mice aged; six-week-old mice appeared to resist the cancer completely when injected with S180 cells, while the older mice were more likely to first develop cancer and only thereafter experience spontaneous regression. Further experiments showed that in these cases it was a massive infiltration of white blood cells that destroyed cancer cells in these mice without damaging normal, healthy cells….

Based on these results, Drs. Cui and Willingham and their colleagues suggest that a previously unknown immune response may be responsible for spontaneous regression.

Fascinating stuff. I remember hearing about it and having seen the two papers (1, 2) describing Dr. Cui’s findings.

Here’s the “hidden” part, according to Sardi:

Then unexpectedly, Dr. Cui revealed this September that his research had moved from the animal lab to humans. In an informal and unpublished study, he obtained white blood cells from volunteers and placed them in lab dishes filled with tumor cells.

Some people’s white blood cells killed only 2% of the cancer cells in the lab dish. They represented a small number of people with poor immunity against cancer. The vast majority of people exhibited marginal cancer-cell killing activity. But in a very few people, their white blood cells killed up to 97% of the cancer cells in the lab dish and therefore exhibited the same cancer-cell killing immunity as the cancer-proof mice!

While these figures were initially published in the September 27 issue of New Scientist and subsequently by other news agencies, the fact that some “cancer-proof” humans exist was not headlined. It should have been one of the greatest news headlines ever.

What news reporters focused on was the approval granted by the Food & Drug Administration for Wake Forest University researchers to infuse white blood cells from cancer resistant humans into patients who are battling cancer.

In the New Scientist report, Dr. Cui explained that his human investigation found other controlling factors in humans. Immunity against cancer declined with advancing age, and emotional stress appears to totally abolish it. Furthermore, the season of the year completely controls it. No cancer-resistant blood samples from humans were obtained during winter months.

First off, Sardi seemingly can’t even get his information right. There is no September 27 issue of New Scientist. The article to which Sardi refers was first posted on September 20 and came from the September 22 issue. But that’s just a quibble (although it does make me wonder how fast and loose with other facts Sardi is). It also allows the nature of Sardi’s woo to come into focus:

This last revelation strongly points to vitamin D, the sunshine hormone that is produced in human skin upon exposure to the sun’s fast-tanning UV-B rays, or that can be purchased as a vitamin pill in pharmacies and health shops. Vitamin D levels are higher in summer than winter…

The Wake Forest University researchers made brief mention of vitamin D, but then the news headlines featured the approval of the white blood cell human infusion study that will have to wait till next summer to commence because of the seasonal variance. The vitamin D connection was swept under the rug.

Ah, yes, the cure for cancer is vitamin D! I should have guessed it when Sardi mentioned it as one the “alternatives” cancer patients should seek out.

If you read the New Scientist article, you’ll see that (1) no “cancer-proof” people were found (they’re called “cancer-resistant” and it hasn’t even been shown yet that their more active natural killer cells translate into true cancer resistance) and (2) it is not hidden that there may be a correlate in people to the “cancer-proof” mice. Of course, even Sardi is forced to note that there is nothing really new about trying to fight cancer immunologically by infusing white blood cells from one patient into another. He’s even forced to point out that this approach is not without its risks, chief among which is graft versus host disease. This latter, however, observation leads Sardi straight into Twilight Zone territory:

In a recent study conducted in France, researchers found life-threatening host-graft reactions emanating from infusion of progenitor cells (similar to stem cells) are provoked by the number of white-blood cells in the infusion. [Transfusion 47 (7): 1268-75, 2007]

Wake Forest University researchers say they will attempt to minimize the possibility of these reactions. However, one wonders if this study is being designed to fail. Will the treatment be worse than the disease? Why have university researchers turned their backs on vitamin D? Maybe researchers’ hands are being tied.

That’s right. According to Sardi, vitamin D is a cancer cure that’s being suppressed, meaning that the researchers’ hands must be “tied.” Because graft versus host disease is a possibility whenever large amounts of immune cells are infused from one patient into another, particularly if the recipient is immunocompromised, Dr. Cui must be wasting his time on a clinical trial that’s “designed to fail” because it isn’t considering vitamin D as a means of amping up the anticancer activity of natural killer cells and preventing graft versus host disease. Never mind that there’s no good evidence to conclude any of these things.

Is that about right?

Of course, it never occurs to Sardi that maybe–just maybe–the reason this research hasn’t yet gotten much attention in the press is because humans aren’t mice. To paraphrase Judah Folkman, “If you’re a mouse and have cancer, we can cure you.” Translating these cures discovered in mice to humans has always been very problematic, though. Or maybe–just maybe–the results aren’t so clear-cut in humans:

While granulocytes from one individual killed around 97 per cent of cancer cells within 24 hours, those from another healthy individual only killed around 2 per cent of cancer cells. Average cancer-killing ability appeared to be lower in adults over the age of 50 and even lower in people with cancer. It also fell when people were stressed, and at certain times of the year.

Killing 97% of cancer cells might produce clinically relevant cancer resistance, but it’s unlikely to make a human “cancer-proof.” (It doesn’t take many cancer cells to establish a tumor.) Having been “in the biz” for a while, I can remember that scientists were routinely curing cancer in mice with immunotherapy back in the late 1980s. Sadly, such amazing results have not translated so dramatically to humans, although immunotherapy and cancer vaccines are promising avenues of treatment to add to our armamentarium. Indeed, melanoma and renal cell cancer are routinely treated with immune-modulating biological therapy, such as interferon, although the success rate is not very good.

A few more articles like this might allow Bill Sardi one day to be able to challenge the master of woo peddling himself, Kevin Trudeau. After all, he has it all: conspiracy mongering, plus a website with clueless antivaccination screeds, liver flush woo, dubious autism “treatments,” and even a credulous treatment of homeopathy. All he needs is a book.

Oh, wait. He has that already. And it’s a doozy, claiming that “Modern Cancer Therapy Does Not Address The Causes Of Cancer” (note the strategically placed bold text), which came a a surprise to me, given how many researcher with whom I interact who are studying the causes of cancer.

I guess Sardi just needs to make an infomercial now.

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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