Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

If you want some cancer woo, and you want it now, who ya gonna call? Mike Adams!

In a way, I have to hand it to Mike Adams.

As you may recall, Mike Adams is the man behind what is arguably one of the top two or three woo-filled sites on the Internet, (formerly known as I’m hard-pressed to come up with an example of someone who can deliver delusional paranoid conspiracy-mongering against the FDA, CDC, and big pharma, antivaccination lunacy, overblown claims about cancer, and (in my considered medical opinion, of course), dangerous cancer quackery, all in one tidy, ranting package. Sometimes the stuff Adams writes is so over-the-top that I have a hard time believing that he doesn’t realize that it’s all crap but writes it anyway because he knows it will draw attention and the adulation of the more die-hard alternative medicine mavens. The reason I have to hand it to Mike Adams is because no one–and I mean no one–can deliver the stupid as well as he can, and when he can’t he finds others who can. PalMD might like to beat up on Dr. Joseph Mercola (who, make no mistake, publishes his share of dubious medical advice), but in comparison to Mike Adams’, Dr. Mercola’s website, as quacky as it may be at times, seems like an oasis of sanity. Heck, even the über-quack website of über-quack websites,, has nothing on Adams other than sheer quantity and longevity when it comes to woo. Indeed, when it comes to bringing the crazy to the Interwebs, Adams is just that talented and has an eye for “talent” like his.

This time around, he’s managed to recruit someone named Mary Laredo to write an article chock full of dangerous misinformation about breast cancer and other cancer entitled A Holistic Strategy Against Cancer. As you may imagine, I was not pleased when I saw this, given that I’ve come to hate the word “holistic.” In its original usage, it may have had a real meaning, but the woo-meisters have twisted and deformed it to the point where, whenever you see the word “holistic” being applied to a medical issue or treatment, nine times out of ten you’ll get the true correct meaning by substituting the word “quackery.”

The article starts out very badly:

In 1971, President Nixon declared a war on cancer. In the ensuing decades, tens of billions of dollars have been spent on the cause yet a cure by orthodox means remains elusive. By any standards this campaign has been a failed endeavor; or worse, a shameful fraud. Progress is a myth, and sustaining hope for the development of a safe and effective cancer drug is pointless. It’s up to each individual to empower themselves with knowledge of the myriad ways to eradicate cancer without harming the body. Although it’s easier to prevent cancer than to reverse it once it has taken hold, it is nevertheless reversible with holistic therapies that address imbalances of the body, mind and spirit. This is not an opinion; it is a statement of fact that’s based on this author’s first-hand experience.

Uh, no, Ms. Laredo. It’s an opinion–your opinion–and a very unreliable one at that, one not supported by science. I could point you to Steve Novella’s excellent discussion of why anecdotes are very seldom useful in determining whether a treatment works or not or refer you to my own previous detailed discussion of “alternative” medicine cancer testimonials, but I doubt that it would do any good. In any case, it’s a load of crap to say that the “war on cancer” has been a “failed endeavor” or a “shameful fraud.” True, cancer is still the number two killer in the U.S. after cardiovascular disease, but just because we haven’t developed the miracle cure that alt-med advocates think that we should is not a reason to declare it a failure. For one thing, survival rates for the common cancers have increased, perhaps not as much as we would like, but they have still increased. Moreover, treatments, particularly during the last decade, have become less toxic and more targeted. Surgery for breast cancer, for example, has become far less morbid than it was in the past, and the same can be said for colon cancer, most lung cancer, and a variety of other cancers. As for Laredo’s claim that “sustaining hope for the development of a safe and effective cancer drug is pointless,” all I can say is: If scientists had an attitude like that, then sustaining hope would be pointless.

Fortunately, scientists and cancer doctors are made of sterner stuff than that.

Let’s go on to see what this “holistic” strategy involves. According to Laredo, it involves eight areas:

  1. Proper nutrition and clean water
  2. Detoxification
  3. Immune building
  4. Oxygen therapy
  5. Natural chemotherapies
  6. Lifestyle changes: adequate sleep, sunlight & exercise
  7. A positive attitude
  8. Spiritual cleansing

Some of these (such as #1 and #6) are common sense on the surface, but Laredo drives them into woo. For example, see what she claims about “proper nutrition and clean water.” First, however, she has to start with a common altie trope:

Regardless of the cancer’s aggressiveness, the body will respond to this holistic approach – the speed and degree to which it does so is commensurate with the diligence and extent to which these eight factors are applied. No cancer treatment, conventional or otherwise, comes with an iron-clad guarantee; however, it’s important to consider that orthodox treatments ravage the body and ignore the underlying causes while alternative treatments strengthen the body and address its healing requirements. Reason and logic side with alternative therapies.

Yes, it’s the old altie trope about how “conventional” treatments supposedly ignore the underlying causes of disease while “alternative” treatments supposedly target them. This would, of course, only be true only if the causes of disease were the miasma theory, disturbances in qi or other life energy, imbalances of the humors, or any other prescientific and pre-germ theory understanding of disease upon which nearly all “alternative” therapies are based. Unfortunately, for advocates of so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), scientific understanding of disease, in particular cancer, has moved on considerably since the thousands or hundreds of years ago when the concepts underlying their favored woo were first described. I have news for Ms. Laredo: The newest cancer treatments are targeted precisely at the molecular derangements that underly the specific cancer for which they are designed. True, targeted therapies have not yet yielded a true cure, but that’s because the mechanisms underlying cancer are redundant. Most likely multiple targets will have to be hit, and the selection of targets will be different for different cancers. Unlike the common misunderstanding, cancer is not a single disease.

Let’s look at how Ms. Laredo takes the concept of proper nutrition and clean water and twists it into woo:

Proper nutrition and pure filtered water is critical to a successful anti-cancer strategy. Diet alone can make or break the effectiveness of any cancer treatment and is therefore the most important strategic point. Knowing which foods feed cancer cells, which interfere with the treatment, and which assist in healing is vital.

Refined sugar feeds and strengthens cancer cells and should be the first substance to be eliminated. Sugar substitutes, refined flour and trans fatty acids damage the body and numerous studies link them to cancer. Dairy and all mucus-forming foods should also be avoided (1). Processed foods, carbonated beverages, coffee, alcohol, chlorine and fluoride fall into the category of foods and substances that interfere with healing and may fuel the cancer’s growth. Conversely, a diet of nutrient-rich foods will enhance all levels of the healing process.

Other than the general observation that proper nutrition is healthy and will enable a cancer patient to handle treatment, this is a lot of woo. There’s no good scientific evidence that refined sugar “feeds and strengthens” cancer cells or that refined flour and trans fatty acids damage the body, at least not in a way that causes cancer. Similarly, there’s no good evidence that drinking only filtered water will do one whit of good when it comes to cancer. You’ll note that Ms. Laredo cites several references. You’ll also note that not a single one of them are references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature, but rather to books that appear designed to sell a diet or treatment program. She goes on to recommend herbs, fruits, and vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, sea vegetables, fruits, and other plant foods. Certainly, vegetables and fruits are important for good nutrition, but saying that they’re good for cancer is only true in that maintaining good nutritional status is important to fighting any disease. It’s no panacea, and, although diet can certainly influence predisoposition to cancer, no specific foods that we know of will make much of a difference in fighting an established cancer. Ms. Laredo then goes on to another unsubstantiated recommendation:

Animal protein should be eliminated if possible; however, we are all of different constitutions, so for those who must consume flesh, it should be restricted to small amounts of organic, pasture-fed beef or poultry, and wild-caught fish. Beans and legumes are an excellent source of fiber and many important nutrients and may be consumed in moderation.


The cancer survivor should aim for a diet that is at least 80% raw. This will ensure an alkaline environment as well as an ample supply of enzymes for healing processes. Oral supplementation of digestive enzymes with meals and systemic enzymes on an empty stomach will further aid healing.

Once again, there is no good scientific evidence that a raw vegetable diet has any effect on the outcome of cancer, nor is there good evidence that oral supplementation with digestive enzymes has any effect either.

I’ll deal with #2 and #3 rather quickly. “Detoxification” seems to be a catch-all CAM treatment for every disease under the sun. Conveniently, the specific toxins, doses, and mechanisms by which they might cause disease are rarely, if ever, discussed. It’s just generic “toxins,” “toxins,” everywhere–and you’d best beware! (Purify yourself, now, unbeliever!) Worse, Laredo recommends:

In addition to consciously avoiding toxic exposure and cleansing the organs of elimination, there are various therapies and practices that will help purify the body. Some include daily stretching to release acids from tissues; rebounding on a mini-trampoline to move lymph fluid, flush waste, and increase the number and activity of white blood cells (5); perspiring in a sauna to purge toxins through the skin; juicing to alkalize and cleanse tissues, and castor oil packs to enhance circulation, stimulate the immune system and aid in detoxification (6).

Toxic build-up can also be released through fasting, which helps to heal and rejuvenate the body. The practice of coffee enemas should also be considered since it prevents the reabsorption of toxins, cleanses the blood and liver, and counteracts the symptoms of a potential healing crisis(4, 6). To be clear on how to proceed with a fast or enema it may be necessary to speak with a health care professional.

Fasting is one of the worst things a cancer patient can do, particularly if the cancer is not early, and there’s certainly no evidence that coffee enemas do anything except provide a particularly disgusting means of delivering caffeine into the bloodstream. Indeed, Laredo’s ideas on detoxification are a veritable cornucopia of dubious woo, some of which can be dangerous. I suppose I could take on her “immune building,” but I think that Mark Crislip, in a manner even more insolent than Orac can muster, sad to say, put it best in his classic podcast: Boost your immune system and die. If you really want to stop someone like Laredo dead in her woo-spewing tracks, all you have to do when you hear the claim that something “boosts” or “strengthens” the immune system is to ask: “What part of the immune system? Cellular or humoral immunity? What immune cytokines are upregulated? What specific cells in the immune system are activated? What suppressors have decreased activity?” There’s lots of fun to be had as they stammer and stutter and just say: “It boosts the immunes system!” You don’t even have to know anything more about the immune system than what is taught in an entry level course college physiology course, but you can have even more fun if you know a bit more than that. Even the relatively immunology-ignorant (relatively speaking among cancer researchers) like myself can have oodles of enjoyment.

Another area where Laredo goes disastrously wrong is in advocated “oxygen therapy”:

The more toxic the body, the less oxygen is delivered to cells. Oxygen starvation at the cellular level leads to disease; in fact, it’s an undisputed fact that cancer cells cease to grow when blood and tissues are sufficiently oxygenated (3)

Actually, no it isn’t. Cancer cells grow just fine in normally oxygenated tissue. Really, they do. It’s true that one common characteristic of cancer cells (but not all cancer cells, I note) is that they can tolerate low oxygen tension better than normal cells and have a tendency to undergo anaerobic metabolism even in the presence of oxygen (the Warburg effect), but that doesn’t mean that oxygen kills them or even slows down their growth. Indeed, cancer cells “like” oxygen so much that they have evolved the ability to trick the body into supplying them with blood by growing new blood vessels into tumors. It’s called angiogenesis, and one of my scientific heros, the late, lamented Judah Folkman, showed that targeting angiogenesis is an effective means of cancer therapy. Consequently, all those strategies to “oxygenate” the body are ineffective or even, in the case of injecting ozone intravenously, potentially very harmful.

Laredo goes on about “natural chemotherapies” as well. She even has the gall to mention “vitamin B17” or amygdalin. That’s Laetrile, in case you didn’t know. Laetrile does not cure cancer. It does not even slow the growth or cancer, and it certainly doesn’t improve survival rates or median survival time of patients with cancer.

Among the remaining three “holistic strategies” to beat cancer, one is a general recommendation for anyone (lifestyle changes), one is now known not to increase survival rates or median survival time (positive attitude), and one is far more religious than scientific (“spiritual cleansing”). Overall, none of the eight “holistic strategies” have much of a basis in science, other than the general advice for good health that applies whether someone has cancer or not (eat right, get enough rest, etc.). Just don’t expect them to cure cancer.

I noticed after finishing the article that Mary Laredo had a link to a blog she writes (Healing Journey). Consequently, I couldn’t resist checking it out. Basically, it’s her story since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here is an excerpt from My Story in a Nutshell:

I am a breast cancer survivor. Originally diagnosed in 2002, I rejected all conventional treatments and instead opted for alternative therapies which I researched myself. For 3+ years I was cancer-free while remaining diligent to my protocol. Gradually, I returned to old habits and bad dietary choices until 19 months ago when I was diagnosed with a stage-4 metastasized recurrence of breast cancer. I learned the hard way that I had to make life-long changes for optimum health and healing.

In other words, her protocol didn’t work, and her cancer metastasized. And she expects other women with breast cancer to do as she did? I realize that she blames returning to “old habits,” but did it ever occur to her that maybe–just maybe–her “alternative” therapies just plain didn’t work? Of course not:

After returning to alternative therapies and becoming more aggressive about my research I again rejected chemo and radiation. I also went to a hospital in Mexico for natural treatments, and within three months the cancer stopped spreading. I’ve been stable for nearly a year. I’m being monitored by my oncologist and all tests and lab reports continue to show steady healing and withdrawal of the cancer.

As I’ve pointed out before, stage IV breast cancer can be extremely variable in its course. If she is fortunate enough to have an indolent form of breast cancer, she could go on quite a long time before it starts progressing rapidly, years even. If she, like Elizabeth Edwards, has metastases to the bone only, she could expect to do well for quite a while before the tumors start growing. That the tumor appears not to have progressed in almost a year is not evidence that whatever woo she is using to treat it is working. More recently, she declared herself “cancer-free” on the basis of a PET scan that failed to show any cancer. Unfortunately, unless her breast cancer showed up on PET scan before, this is an utterly meaningless observation. Breast cancer often doesn’t show up very well on PET scan. It’s one reason why we almost never get PET scans before a patient undergoes surgery for breast cancer; it’s a very low yield study. Meanwhile, Laredo dismisses the nodules on her upper body as being “dying cancer.” Unfortunately, she can’t say that accurately unless one or more of the nodules have been biopsied and subjected to histologic analysis, which it appears they have not. In the absence of that, it is not correct to claim that there is no living cancer there. Moreover, I note that Laredo doesn’t mention whether her CT scans, bone scans, or whatever modalities it was that showed her metastatic cancer (she never mentions, as far as I can tell, where the cancer spread) demonstrate objective evidence of tumor shrinkage.

Far be it from me to rain on Ms. Laredo’s parade or to tell her that she is not cured, as she believes she is, except for a compelling reason and strong necessity. Unfortunately, Ms. Laredo gives me that compelling reason that forces my hand by peddling her story on Mike Adams’ website and promising to write a book about it as though it’s generalizable to all or most women with breast cancer. In the process, she confidently publicizes her pseudoscientific recommendations as though they could cure a woman’s breast cancer. It’s only because Laredo is now pushing dangerous quackery that I feel obligated to point out that her story is not unlike that of Kim Tinkham, who, despite the undisputable presence of her tumor palpable in her breast, claims that it is not a problem and that she is cured.

Although no doubt Ms. Laredo, assuming that she becomes aware of my post, will not see it that way, but I do not wish her ill. Indeed, I sincerely hope she continues to do well for a long time, regardless of what treatments she decides or does not decide to undergo, although I, unlike her, realize that stage IV breast cancer is ultimately not curable with present treatment modalities. I also truly hope that Ms. Laredo returns to “conventional” therapy, which, for many women with stage IV breast cancer, can increase survival time and, equally importantly, improve quality of life, her aspersions on it notwithstanding. My purpose in discussing her article and her story as told on her blog is not to attack her, but rather to counter the misinformation in it regarding breast cancer treatment. It’s also to prevent Laredo’s story from influencing women to give up on conventional therapy and thus leading to anecdotes like that of Michaela Jakubczyk-Eckert, who died in a most unpleasant fashion from breast cancer when she might have either been saved or at least her death rendered much less horrific.

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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