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lternative and Complementary Therapies

Alternative Cancer Therapies

© Richard Walters

Myth #2: Alternative cancer therapists are quacks-unscrupulous, unlicensed, untrained in medicine, out for a fast buck

This stereotype may apply to some practitioners. Too often, though, it's used to paint with one brush all doctors and therapists who work beyond the limits of conventional medicine. The reality turns out to be just the opposite.

In a 1984 study in Annals of Internal Medicine, Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., and fellow researchers found that 60 percent of the 138 alternative cancer practitioners they investigated were medical doctors (M.D.'s). Of the remaining 40 percent, many held doctorates in biology, chemistry, or other related sciences and had extensive research backgrounds.8

The American Cancer Society (ACS) maintains a compendium of "Unproven Methods of Cancer Management," which serves as the cancer establishment's chief tool to label alternative therapies as pseudoscience. To the ACS, unproven means disproven. Yet the ACS judges' pronouncement that "there is no acceptable evidence" for a particular therapy usually amounts to a blatant disregard of all the supporting data.9 The inclusion of a doctor's name and therapy on this ugly official blacklist leads to loss of funding, a sudden inability to get articles published, the rejection of testing applications, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) harassment, if not jail. The ACS blacklist "resembles the list of 'subversive' organizations once maintained by the House Un-American Activities Committee," notes Ralph Moss in his hard-hitting expose The Cancer Industry (see Appendix A). "Merely including a scientist's name on the list has the effect of damning that researcher's work and putting the tag of quackery on him and his efforts."~10

Moss's analysis of the unorthodox therapists whose names appear on the ACS Unproven Methods list reveals that 65 percent of them were M.D.'s, many from prestigious medical schools; an additional 13 percent held Ph.D.'s in medical or scientific disciplines.

"A number of the scientists on the ACS Unproven Methods list were undoubtedly persons of genius," observes science writer Robert Houston.11 ~ Among the examples he cites is Max Gerson, M.D., whose dietary treatment of cancer anticipated many current research trends. Gerson was hailed by Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who wrote, "I see in him one of the most eminent medical geniuses in the history of medicine."

These practitioners hardly fit the image of snake-oil salesmen.

Myth #3: Patients who seek alternative therapies are driven by desperation. They're ignorant, gullible or both.

Contrary to the stereotype, recent studies have shown that alternative cancer therapies are more popular among affluent, well-educated patients-and that some conventional physicians are surprisingly supportive of them. "The stereotype of the less-educated, poor person succumbing to the sideshow lures of the quack has been exploded," Dr. LaMar McGinnis told a San Francisco conference organized by the American Cancer Society in 1990. McGinnis, ax-chairman of the ACS Committee on Unproven Methods and no friend of alternative treatment, based his remarks on an unpublished ACS study of 5,047 patients.

"Many patients receiving alternate care do not conform to the traditional stereotype of poorly educated, terminally ill patients who have exhausted conventional treatment," wrote Barrie Cassileth in her landmark 1984 study (see Myth #2). She found that cancer patients on alternative therapies were significantly better educated than were patients on conventional treatment only. Many were attracted to therapeutic alternatives emphasizing personal responsibility and nutrition and moving away from what the patients viewed as deficiencies of orthodox medical care. Most of the patients paid less than $1,000 for the first year of alternative treatment. Even taking into account inflation and sharp variations in fees, these costs are modest compared to the expenses of $2,500 per day that the medical establishment demands for its invasive procedures. Cassileth also found that alternative therapy was actually approved by patients' primary physicians 30 percent of the time.

Myth #4: Alternative cancer therapies are "unproven, " therefore untested and unscientific.

The American Cancer Society has seventy-two alternative cancer therapies on its Unproven Methods list. In his revealing analysis of the ACS blacklist, Ralph Moss notes that for 44 percent of these condemned therapies, no investigation at all had been carried out by the ACS or any other agency. For another 11 percent, the investigations had actually yielded positive results. Inconclusive findings were reported for 16 percent. And for the remaining 29 percent, the ACS judges had determined the methods in question to be ineffective, yet, as Moss points out, "Virtually all of the ACS judges are orthodox physicians with a vested interest in the system. In making their assessments, they rely on second- or third-hand reports like magazine articles and foreign medical associations."

Hyperthermia, or heat therapy-once branded as a "worthless remedy" and "quackery" by the ACS-was removed years later from the Unproven Methods list. Today, hyperthermia is in trial use at major medical centers; it has been hailed by some oncologists as the fifth modality in cancer treatment after surgery, radiation, drugs, and immunotherapy. This is the same method that the ACS banished into limbo in 1967.

Four other unorthodox cancer treatments once stigmatized by their inclusion on the ACS blacklist were later removed from it: hydrazine sulfate, the Coley therapy, the Lincoln therapy, and Hendricks Natural Immunity therapy. Their Stalinist-like "rehabilitation" came about through pressure from prestigious researchers and institutions with a keen interest in exploring these methods.

These examples demonstrate the bias built into the ACS's unscientific system, which is largely designed to protect the monetary interests of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. One should keep an open mind about all the available options.

The Myth of "Proven" Therapies
Most of the everyday practices of modern medicine are unproven if we go by the government's own standards. In 1978, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an arm of the United States Congress, issued a major research report that concluded "only 10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practices have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trial." In other words, 80 to 90 percent of what doctors do to you is scientifically unproven guesswork. By this government-supported definition, most of modern medicine is quackery.~12

Chemotherapy and radiation, two of the three principal "proven" methods of treating cancer, seem to fall within the OTA definition of unproven, potentially dangerous quackery, at least in much of their current usage in the United States. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are all harmful to the body as well as to the tumor and all cause physical suffering and emotional trauma that frequently make them an excruciating ordeal. Each of these methods deserves a closer look.

Chemotherapy has scored dramatic successes in treating cancers of the lymph and blood cells: the leukemias, the lymphomas, and Hodgkin's disease (a type of lymph cancer). These cancers are treated by combination chemotherapy, which uses "cocktails" of several different toxic drugs at once. Chemo cocktails, when preceded by surgery and radiotherapy, have achieved significant cure rates, mostly with rare types of solid tumors such as choriocarcinoma.

The Janker Klinik in Bonn, Germany, is famous for its short-term, high-dosage chemotherapy, usually administered over a one- or two week period. Published (but nonscientific) reports credit the Klinik with an incredible 70 percent remission rate and cures in patients who had widely metastasized cancers. This figure seems questionable because most patients go there as a last resort, their systems already devastated by conventional treatment. Skeptical American doctors say that the remissions are very short-lived and that when the cancer returns, it is quickly fatal.~13

Virtually all of the anticancer drugs approved by the FDA are toxic at the applied dosages and markedly immunosuppressive, destroying a patient's natural resistance to many diseases, including cancer. Most of these FDA-approved chemo drugs are also carcinogenic, that is, highly cancer-causing in lab animals and capable of causing cancer in human beings.

All these drugs are poisonous not as a side effect but as a primary effect. Because these poisons cannot distinguish between cancerous and normal cells, they disrupt or kill normal, healthy cells throughout the body besides attacking the tumor. They attack the bone marrow, thereby destroying the white blood cells, which fight infection; the red blood cells, which carry life-sustaining oxygen to the body's organs; and the platelets, which help the blood to clot. Unfortunately, these immune-system cells are a major part of the body's built-in defense against cancer.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy-with their immune systems completely destroyed or compromised-frequently die of pneumonia or common infections. Death from toxicity is also quite common. In one study, 10 percent of 133 patients using the chemo drug 5-FU (5-fluorouracil) died as a direct result of the drug's toxicity.~14 Doctors jokingly refer to this popular chemotherapy drug as "Five Feet Under." Chemotherapy patients come down with the whole range of blood diseases, such as aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow can no longer make blood cells; leukopenia, an abnormal decrease in the amount of white blood cells; and thrombocytopenia, an abnormal reduction in platelets. The long-term effects of chemotherapy can include heart damage weeks, months, or years after treatment; loss of fertility; and an increased risk of recurrence of cancer.

Most chemo drugs cause secondary cancers, especially of the gastrointestinal tract, ovaries, and lungs. These are among the most difficult cancers to treat. They can appear five, ten, fifteen years after the "successful" chemotherapy. In one study, 18 percent of the survivors developed unrelated cancer up to fifteen years later. Reports like the following are fairly typical: "Secondary cancers are known complications of chemo therapy and irradiation used to treat Hodgkin's and non- Hodgkin's lymphomas and other primary cancers" (New England Journal of Medicine, September 21, 1989) . "Chemotherapy drugs that were long ago used to treat ovarian cancer may have done as much harm as good by sharply increasing the risk of leukemia.. .. Among women treated from 1960 through 1985, the risk of leukemia was 12 times higher in those who received chemotherapy than in those who only under went surgery" (Associate d Press ,January 5, 1990) . Between 5 and 10 percent of all patients who survive chemotherapy die of leukemia in the first ten years after treatment, according to Harvard micro biologist Dr. John Cairns. When chemotherapy and radiation are given together, secondary tumors occur about 25 times more than the expected rate. This depressing assessment was made by Dr. John Laszlo, the American Cancer Society's senior vice president for research.15

Chemotherapy can be one of the most physically and emotionally devastating of all treatments. Most of the forty FDA-approved chemo drugs on the market cause baldness; hair may take years to return to normal. Other common side effects include extreme nausea and vomiting, bleeding gums, sores around the mouth, bleeding and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract, and candida (thrush). Numerous patients say they find the side effects worse than the disease itself. A number of autopsy studies have shown that many patients die from the standard treatment they receive before the tumor has a chance to kill them.16

The cancers from which most people die-the big killers like breast, colon, and lung cancer-generally do not respond to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy has only a limited effectiveness against any tumor that is large or has spread; its successes are generally with small, very early tumors. Several studies indicate that chemotherapy has no survival value in breast cancer. "Survival may even have been shortened in some [breast cancer) patients given chemotherapy," according to six British cancer specialists writing in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.17

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