Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Eggplant mania for cancer

As I’ve said before many times, herbal or plant-based medicines are about the only kind of “alternative” medicine that has significant prior scientific plausibility based on what we know about science. That’s because plants often contain biologically active molecules; i.e., they often contain drugs. Of course, the problem with plant-based medicines is that they are, in essence, highly contaminated drugs, the predictability of whose responses is variable because the amount of active ingredient can vary widely.

There’s also a problem when claims for a plant-based compound become grandiose. It immediately makes me suspicious, even when there might be some biological plausibility that some compound with derived from a plant might have anticancer properties, when I see claims of “cancer cures” or the extensive use of testimonial evidence. Recently, I became aware of just such a “cancer cure” derived from, of all things, eggplant. The advertising for a cream based on this comound has it all: Testimonials, claims of near 100% efficacy in curing certain types of cancer, and claims of near miraculous efficacy. In essence, a man named Dr. Bill E. Cham takes a plant-based “treatment” and claims that it can not only cure skin cancer but regenerate and rejuvenate. In brief, he takes something that might have some efficacy and makes unbelievable claims for it.

In essence, Dr. Cham’s claim is that eggplants cure skin cancer? Naturally, I know it’s true because I saw it on the Internet, and I’ve even seen some credulous reporting on it:

And this is what Dr. Bill Cham says on his website about his “Eggplant Cancer Cure”:

Perfection or near-perfection is rare in any area of medicine. Dr. Bill Cham has achieved it in the treatment of two common cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.


Even better, for those who want to know “how does it work”, this book tells us exactly how. The explanation is simple, easy to understand, and yet scientifically elegant, a molecular ballet. Here’s the explanation in one line of simple English: Dr. Cham has found substances which can penetrate and kill skin cancer cells but can’t penetrate normal skin cells, so normal skin cells are untouched and unhurt while the skin cancer cells die! (Those who want the full technical explanation will find it–again, in simple English–in the following pages.)

What you’re about to read and the pictures you’re about to see are absolutely breath-taking. You’ll read about and see relatively small squamous and basal cell cancers disappearing in just 12 to 16 weeks. You’ll see large, neglected cancers as large as 2 by 3 inches first get bigger as cancer cells “beneath the surface” die, and then reverse course and slowly heal over the next few months. Surgical treatment of such large skin cancers is almost always disfiguring, and sometimes not correctable with plastic surgery. Dr. Cham’s treatment enables healing of even the largest cancers with minimal if any disfigurement.

“Molecular ballet?”? Wow, I really like that term. I think I’ll steal it sometime for a grant application to describe my favorite molecular signaling cascade. Thanks, Dr. Cham! But can this “eggplant cure” actually do what Dr. Cham claims it can? In the video, he claims it’s been tested in “randomized trials” in the U.K.; so I figured that I could find the results of those randomized trials by searching PubMed. Silly me. A search of “eggplant” and “skin cancer” revealed…two referencs, neither of which are by Dr. Cham and neither of which show an eggplant extract curing cancer. Meanwhile a search on Dr. Cham’s name revealed three publications, one of which looked like a review article. Only one of them showed any sort of clinical study suggesting that a cream formulation containing high concentrations (10%) of a standard mixture of solasodine glycosides (BEC) might be effective in treating non-melanoma skin cancers. The problem with the study, however, is that it did not appear to be randomized or to have matched its tumors for size and depth very well.

Somehow, though, Dr. Cham claims that he’s done Phase I, Phase II, Phase III, and even Phase IV (post-marketing) trials. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect phase IV trials to be published; postmarketing surveys often remain unpulished. However, I would expect to see the phase III trial supporting his “Curaderm” to have been published. Oddly enough, many of the studies listed on Dr. Cham’s website don’t appear to be even particularly relevant to the question of whether his cream cures skin cancer. Particularly suspicious are a couple of articles that could have come straight from Kevin Trudeau, The skin cancer cure so effective, it’s being kept secret and The skin cancer cure nobody wants you to know about.

Now we’re talking crankery!

The odd thing is that the compounds isolated by Dr. Cham appear promising. Basal cell carcinoma, for example, is a type of cancer that is rarely fatal and rarely metastasizes. However, it can grow to large sizes and become disfiguring if neglected. Currently, surgery is indeed the only treatment of basal cell carcinoma. Simple surgical excision is curative (as they say, nothing heals like surgical steel). Consequently, a topical agent that caused basal cell carcinoma to regress would be very useful to dermatologists and skin cancer surgeons. I’m less enthusiastic about using such compounds to treat squamous cell carcinoma, because these tumors can invade and metastasize. Their treatment can require lymph node dissection and radiation. Treating such tumors is often more than just a matter of simple surgical excision. At least Dr. Cham doesn’t claim that his Curaderm can treat melanoma. That would be truly irresponsible.

So how, if it works, does Curaderm supposedly work? That’s where I see more red flags going up. There’s a long and seemingly plausible explanation in his book. There’s a listing of clinical trials, but none of them appear to have been published, at least not by Dr. Cham. Then, of course, there’s the conspiracy-mongering by Dr. Cham himself:

These dermatologists put pressure on the government health regulators who then decided to put Curaderm BEC5 as a prescription only drug.  Because of this no public awareness of Curaderm BEC5 was allowed and of course these dermatologists did not support Curaderm BEC5.  Consequently, I attempted to reason with the Health Authorities that Curaderm BEC5 should be widely available to the public.  This fell on deaf ears. The health regulators reasoning was the glycoalkaloids BEC were toxic because they were extracted from the Devil’s Apple plant.

I then examined a whole host of solanum plant species and found that the exact replica of BEC was present in the eggplant.  Most importantly the amount of BEC in one tube of Curaderm BEC5 is the equivalent to approximately 5g of eggplant (approximately 1 table spoon).  So how can the BEC in Curaderm BEC5 be considered toxic, especially after we had done full toxicological studies with the BEC where it was shown that it was completely safe at the concentrations found in Curaderm BEC5.  With this new information in hand I again approached the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to have Curaderm BEC5 back as an OTC (over the counter) item.  The TGA said they would get back to me.  I have been waiting for over 8 years but they have not responded to my request. I finally gave up on them and sought and obtained registration of Curaderm BEC5 as an OTC in the Republic of Vanuatu.

He then says he would love it if the FDA would approve his drug, apparently clueless that the FDA doesn’t come looking for drugs to approve. The inventors have to submit their treatment to the FDA for approval. Indeed, Dr. Cham has flirted with, if not outright crossed, the border from being a physician-scientist into becoming a crank. After all, he claims to have done all these studies on the BEC compound in extensive clinical trials, but they do not appear to be published in the peer-reviewed medical literature. Rather, they’re only discussed in his books, which, of course, you have to buy. Oddly enough, just this year, another group did actually do a clinical trial using a related compound and reported significant efficacy.

It’s rather depressing to see Dr. Cham choose to rely on testimonials to sell his cream and to use books to report his “research” rather than submitting it to peer-reviewed journals for publication. It’s also depressing to see him engage in that favorite refuge of the crank, the conspiracy theory in which dark forces (in this case, dermatologists) don’t want you to know about his miraculous treatment. It’s really a shame, because for a tumor like basal cell carcinoma, an effective topical cream would be very useful. But there’s money to be made. Why let adherence to science get in the way of making that money?

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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