In 2004, Dr Andrew Vickers famously asserted that alternative cancer therapies were no longer unproven-they had been disproven. He made the statement after reviewing the clinical evidence for a range of alternative cancer remedies such as vitamin C, hydrazine sulphate, laetrile and antineoplaston therapy.
Vickers, a researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, wrote that there were sufficient numbers of well-controlled trials involving a range of alternative cancer therapies to conclude that "the label 'unproven' is inappropriate for such therapies; it is time to assert that many alternative therapies have been 'disproven'" (CA Cancer J Clin, 2004; 54: 110-8).
Nevertheless, his conclusion has been thrown into question over the past four years by new research into a variety of therapies-including those already investigated by Vickers-that has found that there are cancer treatments that do offer a genuine and effective alternative to conventional medicine's options of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
Vitamin C therapy revisited
One example is the use of vitamin C, or ascorbate, as cancer treatment. Every trial conducted up to just a few years ago had used ascorbate orally in tablet form, including one-referred to by Vickers-involving 150 patients with advanced cancer. Half were given vitamin C and the remainder was given a placebo. Around 80 per cent of participants in both groups were dead within 12 weeks (N Engl J Med, 1979; 301: 687-90).
However, it has only been in the last few years that researchers have realized something that even Linus Pauling, who pioneered vitamin C therapy, did not-namely, that vitamin C has to be given intra-venously to be effective. The body has difficulty absorbing large amounts of vitamin C, and it is impossible to retain the high therapeutic levels required if the vitamin is absorbed orally through foods or supplements.
"When you eat foods containing more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C a day-for example, two oranges and a serving of broccoli-your body prevents blood levels of ascorbate from exceeding a narrow range," says Mark Levine, head of the Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Section of the US National Institute of Diabetes
and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). "It was not realized at the time that only injected ascorbate might deliver the concentrations needed to see an anti-tumour effect."
Indeed, scientists are only now beginning to understand the pro-cesses that occur when vitamin C is injected at very high doses. Normally, vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects cells against the damaging effects of free radicals. However, Levine and his colleagues have tested the hypothesis that ascorbate, when injected at high doses, may become a prooxidant. These are agents that generate free radicals as well as produce hydrogen peroxide, which has tumour-killing abilities.
In their initial laboratory tests with cancer cells, Levine and his team discovered that high concen-trations of ascorbate have anticancer effects in 75 per cent of the cancer cell lines tested while preserving normal, healthy cells.
Their next step was to inject high-dose ascorbate into immune-deficient mice that had rapidly spreading ovarian, pancreatic and gliobastoma (brain) tumours. The injections reduced tumour growth and mass weight by between 41 and 53 per cent. "These preclinical data provide the first firm basis for advancing pharmacologic ascorbate in cancer treatments to humans," Levine concluded (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2008; 105: 11105-9).
On the basis of Levine's ground-breaking findings and the new, non-drug-company funding that is finally reaching researchers, more appro-priate clinical trials, involving human cancer patients, are now in the planning stages.
Historically, funding for cancer research has come either from the drug industry or from the public, who give generously to charities such as Cancer Research UK. Sadly, organizations such as this have traditionally taken a more conserva-tive stance and have usually only sponsored studies into conventional treatments.
However, as new avenues of funding are being found, the money is now going directly into research into alternative therapies. One example is the Carol Ann Schwartz Cancer Education Fund, named after a 56-year-old woman who died in 1994 from lung cancer after discovering-too late-that there were alternative therapies that might have helped her.
The Fund is currently sponsoring three clinical trials organized by Columbia University in New York involving: antineoplaston therapy, claimed by Vickers to be 'disproven'; Dr Nicholas Gonzalez's nutritional programme for pancreatic cancer; and Dr Charles Simone's shark cartilage therapy for lung, breast, colorectal, prostate, bladder, brain and lymphoma tumours.
These new research projects are vital if we are to find a more effective way of combating cancer, says Columbia's Deborah Daly. "Over the long term, about half of all cancer patients either fail to respond to conventional medical treatment or, after apparently successful initial results, experience a recurrence and ultimately die from metastatic [spreading] or advanced disease."
But now that non-pharmaceutical funds are finally becoming available, researchers are "devoting a great deal of effort to finding better cancer treatments and confirming that they are better than existing ones."
What follows are some of the studies that have been published since Vickers' 2004 overview, all of which suggest that a cancer patient has more worthwhile options to pursue than only those offered by con-ventional medicine.
All of these trials have reached animal-testing stage, which means that they have already been proven successful in laboratory tests. Having also been found to be effective in treating animal models of cancer, the next stage of testing would be on human subjects. However, some of these agents have already been shown to be successful in clinical trials of cancer patients.
- Amygdalin (laetrile)
Laetrile is the purified and concentrated form of a natural substance called 'amygdalin', derived from apricot kernels. It is usually given intravenously when a patient first begins the treatment and then, depending on response, is eventually given orally. In one study carried out by the Jyung Hee University in South Korea, amygdalin killed cancer cells in prostate cancer patients. The researchers declared it to be "a valuable option" in the treatment of prostate cancer (Biol Pharm Bull, 2006; 29: 1597-602).
In a separate study by a different team, but carried out at the same Korean university, amygdalin slowed the progress of colon cancer cells in test-tube genetic studies (World J Gastroenterol, 2005; 11: 5156-61).
- Antineoplaston therapy
This therapy was pioneered by Dr Stanislaw Burzynski, a Polish physician and scientist who is now practising in Houston, TX, USA, and is based on the observation that cancer patients are deficient in amino-acid compounds called 'peptides'. Burzynski has discover-ed a technology for manufacturing peptides, which are then injected into cancer patients with the belief that these peptides will cause cancer cells to revert to healthy ones.
In one study, 74 per cent of children with low-grade gliomas (brain tumours) saw a marked improvement in their condition, while 91 per cent of patients with colon cancer who were given the therapy were still alive after five years compared with just 39 per cent of those who had received the usual chemotherapy (Integr Cancer Ther, 2004; 3: 47-58).
In a case report of a 40-year-old man with a brain tumour, whose prognosis was very poor, antineoplastons were admini-stered on 655 consecutive days, although a complete response was seen after just one year. What's more, four years after the end of treatment, the patient is still completely free of tumour (Integr Cancer Ther, 2004; 3: 257-61).
- Ellagic acid
Ellagic acid is a relatively new cancer therapy that is derived from red berries and pomegran-ates. In one test-tube study, it killed pancreatic cancer cells at doses of between 10 and 50 mmol/L, and was able to slow, by 20 times, cancer cell growth at 50 mmol/L doses (World J Gastroenterol, 2008; 14: 3672-80).
In a separate study using a mouse model of prostate cancer, pomegranate-derived ellagic acid stopped the growth of prostate cancer cells (J Agric Food Chem, 2007; 55: 7732-7). These positive results warrant further studies in prostate cancer patients.
- Electronic therapy
This type of treatment has been used in a variety of ways to treat cancer, including electrotherapy, magnetic resonance, radiowaves, Rife machines (also called 'frequency generators', developed by Dr Royal Rife in the 1930s) and 'zappers', championed by Dr Hulda Clark. Treatment using alternating electrical fields (TTFields) has been demonstrated to slow brain tumour cell growth in laboratory tests, in animals and in humans. In one pilot (prelimin-ary) study, 10 patients with recurrent brain tumours-and a survival prognosis of 15 months-were all still alive more than 70 months later. The only side-effect was mild-to-moderate dermatitis (rash) on the skin where the electrodes had been applied (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2007; 104: 10152-7).
- Enzyme therapy
Enzyme therapy usually comes in two varieties: food enzymes and proteolytic enzymes (proteases). Both are based on the theory, advanced by John Beard, Ernst Krebs and Dean Burk, that a cancer cell is coated with a protein lining to protect it against the body's normal immune defences. However, certain enzymes can dissolve this cell lining, thereby allowing the body's white blood cells, or leucocytes, to destroy the cancer cell. Ironically, Wobe-Mugos E (an oral formulation of trypsin, chymotrypsin and papain), the only enzyme therapy recognized and licensed by America's drugs watchdog Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been found to be ineffective when used in conjunction with chemo- or radiotherapy (Strahlenther Onkol, 2007; 183: 121-7).
- Flaxseed oil
The flaxseed, or linseed, oil diet was pioneered by German biochemist Dr Johanna Budwig in 1951. Her diet involves the addition of two tablespoons of flaxseed oil to one-fourth of a
cup (2 oz) of low-fat cottage cheese or other sulphur-con-taining food, and is designed to boost the immune system and slow the growth of cancer cells.
According to two recent studies, it's a strategy that appears to work. In one, flaxseed oil not only slowed breast tumour growth in experimental mice, but also counteracted the carcino-genic effects of soy protein (J Toxicol Environ Health A, 2007; 70: 1888-96). The other study, which also used mice, demonstrated that the oil slowed the growth of cancer cells through its anti-oestrogenic effect on oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer (Clin Cancer Res, 2007; 13: 1061-7).
- Iscador (mistletoe)
Mistletoe (Viscum album) is a herbal remedy purported to have cancer-fighting qualities, accord-ing to Rudolf Steiner's school of anthroposophical medicine. It is usually given as an injection. However, as its use remains the subject of controversy, it's use is confined to centres in Europe and especially Germany. It is banned in the US, where even its importation is stopped.
Nevertheless, three new studies suggest that it can help to slow the growth of cancer cells, just as Steiner predicted. In a set of four clinical trials, all Iscador-treated patients with ovarian cancer survived longer than their matched controls-and regardless of whether or not the cancer had spread (Arzneim Forsch, 2007; 57: 665-78). Iscador had similar life-preserving effects in patients with cervical cancer (Forsch Komplement-"armed, 2007; 14: 140-7).
Finally, in a case report of a 68-year-old man with malignant melanoma, Iscador was his only cancer therapy from 1999 until, in 2002, his cancer, which had spread to his liver, disappeared completely. In addition, no further metastases have been seen since
(J Altern Complement Med, 2007; 13: 443-5).
- Krill oil
Krill oil, which is derived from the tiny marine crustaceans that are the main staple food of whales, is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) and especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Its pro-ponents say it can slow, and even reverse, colon cancer in its early stages, and may extend the life of breast cancer patients. In one study of rats-and so may not necessarily apply to humans-it successfully slowed the prolifera-tion of colon cancer cells (Lipids Health Dis, 2008; 7: 30).
Proven or disproven?
When Andrew Vickers concluded that alternative cancer therapies had been disproven, he was not being entirely accurate. In his own report, he accepts that Nicholas Gonzalez's nutritional programme had achieved positive results-so much so that its next step was to be tested in a phase III trial (expanded controlled and uncontrolled trials) in patients.
Vickers also accepts that some alternative cancer centres have good clinical documentation that could easily have been used in a trial but, as alternative practitioners often do not trust the motives of researchers, these valuable data have not been made available to them. This is perhaps not so surprising in light of the fact that most trials are sponsored by or otherwise involve drug companies. However, now that funds are available from more impartial sources, there may be a more positive attitude to trials of alternative therapies in future.
What has long been apparent is that conventional approaches are not winning the war against cancer. Each year around 7.6 million people around the world die because of cancer, and virtually every one of them would have been given some form of conventional therapy.
This means that, instead of suppressing, banning and ridiculing every alternative approach, it is imperative that we discover-with open minds-exactly what cancer is, and how we can effectively treat it, whether or not the answer will benefit a pharmaceutical company.
Medicine's approaches to cancer
French cancer specialist George Math'e once said: "If I contracted cancer, I would never go to a standard cancer treatment centre. Cancer victims who live far away from such centres have a chance."
Incredibly, it's a view shared by most oncologists. A survey of cancer specialists in Canada discovered that the majority of these cancer experts would refuse to use chemotherapy because they believe it to be unacceptably toxic and largely ineffective (Br J Cancer, 1986; 54: 661-7).
Experts at Columbia University have pointed out that conventional cancer therapies fail in more than half of all patients (see www.rosenthal.hs.columbia.edu/cancer/info/
ctrials.html). Each year, the cancer mortality rate rises and, today, cancer is responsible for 13 per cent of all deaths (according to the World Health Organization, February 2006; see www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2006/ pr06/en/index.html)-this in spite of the two trillion-dollar ($2,000,000,000,000) investment in cancer therapy made since US President Nixon famously declared his 'War on Cancer' in 1971.
Although there are around 200 different types of cancer, conventional medicine continues to treat all of them mostly in three ways: chemotherapy; radiotherapy; and surgery. Each seeks to reduce or eliminate cancerous tumours.
Although medicine points to its success in controlling, and sometimes eliminating, early-stage cancers and rare forms of the disease, the treatments do little to improve the long-term outlook for most cancer patients. The late Dr Hardin Jones, of the University of California at Berkeley, once said that "the possibility exists that treatment makes the average situation worse". Controversially, after studying decades of cancer statistics and survival rates, he declared that "patients are as well off, or better off, untreated".
Although he made that claim in 1975, it is one that has yet to be refuted by any research since.
- Surgery to remove tumours is thought to be the least controversial of the three standard cancer therapies. And yet, it can increase the risk of cancer relapse and death (Lancet, 1996; 347: 260).
Harvard researcher Dr Judah Folkman has demon-strated that angiogenesis-the process by which new blood vessels are formed-can allow cancer to spread by providing a 'food transport system' for the tumour. As the process happens whenever flesh is injured, it follows that surgery may be a trigger for cancer growth.
- Radiotherapy delivers very high doses of radiation that are supposed to attack only the cancerous cells. Unfortunately, the therapy is considerably more scatter-gun than that, and 60 per cent of women who receive radiotherapy for their breast cancer go on to develop lung cancer decades later (Med Oncol, 1994; 11: 121-5).
Radiotherapy can also cause rare and aggressive cancers known as ' angiosarcomas', which are almost always fatal (J Am Acad Dermatol, 2003; 49: 532-8).
Overall, it's very likely that radiotherapy may cause more harm than good. In one study of lung cancer patients, the risk of death was 21 per cent greater in those receiving radiation therapy (Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2003; 1: CD002142).
- Chemotherapy uses drugs that are designed to kill all cells that are undergoing cell division (proliferation). The effects of these drugs can be appalling and almost unbearable-with benefits that are questionable. One study found that chemotherapy, when used in conjunction with radiotherapy, did not increase overall survival rates (JAMA, 1991; 265: 391-5). A year later, cancer specialist Dr Ulrich Abel carried out a meta-analysis of chemotherapy cure rates in cases of advanced cancer and also concluded that the drugs do not prolong survival (Biomed Pharmacother, 1992; 46: 439-52).
What is cancer?
One reason for conventional medicine's continued failure to win the war against cancer could be due to how it views the disease. Its therapies focus on the tumours themselves rather than seeing the tumour as the manifestation of a more generalized process. As a result, cancer often returns-and is more deadly than ever.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found that cancer is not a genetic disease, but one in which normal cell division is disturbed by external factors such as chemicals, radiation, stress or our modern diet (Biochem J, 2000; 348: 497-506).
Cancer researcher Mauris L. Emeka, author of Fear Cancer No More (Port Orchard, WA: Apollo Publishing International, 2002) and Cancer's Best Medicine (Port Orchard, WA: Apollo Publishing International, 2004), describes cancer as a malfunctioning process that leads to a malignant tumour. As he puts it: "Think of the malignant tumour for what it is: it's an indication that a process has gone wrong. In other words, the tumour is a visible symptom telling us that the body's metabolism is not working properly."
Lothar Hirneise, the founder and head of People Against Cancer in Germany, says that conventional medicine's crucial error is believing that cell adaptation is the cause of cancer. As he describes it, "This is like playing dominos and maintaining that the seventh domino has fallen because the sixth domino fell. However, the fact is that it fell because the fifth domino fell, and so on. In allopathy, the cause for everything is attributed to the sixth domino, and it blames things such as genes or toxins alone as the cause of cancer. This is a small but crucial conceptual error that costs the lives of thousands of people every day."
The many cases of unexpected cancer remission may hold a key to cancer and to more holistic ways of treating it. As UK-based biology professor Brian Goodwin comments: "The phenomenon of cancer remission, in which the individual gets rid of the cancer spontaneously, needs to be much more thoroughly explored. Remissions can occur after various types of stimulus to the whole body, such as change of diet, change of lifestyle, and many other non-specific influences."
In the 1993 report Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography, prepared by medical researcher Brendan O'Regan for the Institute of Noetic Sciences, based in Sausalito, CA, more than 1000 case histories of sudden cancer reversals that could not be explained by any medical or other interventions were collated.
Follow the money
If the cancer patient isn't benefiting from conventional cancer treatment, there's one group that most definitely is: the pharmaceutical industry. By 2012, the global cancer market is expected to generate revenues in excess of $65 billion.
Roche, the Swiss-based drug giant, is one of the principal beneficiaries of the so-called 'cancer industry', as coined by health campaigner Ralph Moss. Its two chemotherapy drugs-Avastin (bevacizumab) for colon cancer, and Herceptin (trastuzumab) for breast cancer-make significant contributions to the company's 38-per-cent rise in profits year after year and to the drug sales that continue to rise by 10 per cent each year. Indeed, Avastin generates annual sales worth $2.3 billion in the USA alone.
Although this profitable growth is partly due to their increased use, mostly, it is the result of escalating costs of the drugs. A prescription for Avastin can cost from $4400 to $8800 a month and, according to CBS News, represents a price increase of 15 per cent on the previous year. This is in line with the costs of other manufacturers' chemotherapy drugs, which can amount to around $10,000.