(Investigator 159, 2014 November)


Many quackery promoters suggest that cancer is a recent development caused by environmental toxins. However, it is not.

The exorcising of tumours was practised in India 4,000 years ago. Early Egyptians treated tumours with an ointment of arsenic and vinegar, and caustic salves have been used since ancient times.

Hippocrates distinguished between benign and malignant tumours in the 5th. century B.C., and in the 7th. century A.D., Paul of Aegina correctly stated that cancer can arise in any internal or external part of the body.
Modern cancer research may be said to date from 1775, when Percival Pott attributed chimney sweeps' cancer of the skin to soot. However, it was not until M. F. X. Bichat deduced, and Johannes Müller established in 1838, the fact that tumours represent a proliferation of cells.

The development of the microscope opened the way for cancer research proper, and great developments immediately resulted, especially from Rudolf Virchow's 1858 application of the cell theory to pathology.

In the second half of the 19th. century, industrial hazards such as tar, paraffin, azo dyes, lubricating oil and chromate dust came to be recognised as carcinogenic, and more recently, radiation and asbestos.

In this century, much progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, and since the 1970s considerable effort has been expended toward the development, control and elimination of cancer by immunotherapy.

Some cancers, if diagnosed early in their development and treated with proven methods of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, can be cured. However, cancer still kills half the people who get it.

Some people who do cancer management, such as legitimate oncologists, are both sincere in their beliefs and well trained in their profession. Unfortunately there are those using unproven therapies who would trade on the misfortune of others. Regardless of motivation, the end result is the same -- the terminally ill waste their precious time and money on false hopes, and potentially curable patients die from delay of proper treatment.


Science-based theory:

For unknown reasons, tumours are an abnormal and unrestrained new growth in cells and tissues that produce deleterious and often fatal effects. The causative factors include environmental exposure, genetic disposition and nutritional deficiency.

Vitalistic-based theory:

Cancers are allegedly caused by nutritional deficiency according to herbalists; a yin disease according to acupuncturists; unbalanced doshas according to the proponents of ayurvedic medicine; stress is proposed as a cause by Transcendental Meditation advocates, and precondition for the disease is suggested by those recommending vitamin and mineral supplements.


Science-based treatment includes surgery, radiation (linear accelerators, betatrons and radioactive cobalt-60 teletherapy apparatus) and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy makes use of ionising radiations such as X-rays, particles (electrons, neutrons and pi-mesons), and gamma rays, to destroy cells by impairing their capacity to divide.

Chemotherapy treatment with a combination of drugs is more suitable than radiation for some types of cancer. Other types can be treated with both, or in the case of multiple carcinomas of the superficial layers of the skin, by the application of cancer-drug ointments.

Vitalistic-based treatment offers a wide variety of non¬proven cures ranging from meditation to mega-doses of vitamins.


Advances in medicine and medical technology in the 20th. century have relegated many cancers to the status of a curable disease rather than a death sentence. "Alternative" therapies however remain unproven, and in many cases, are highly dangerous.

The principal danger in resorting to unproven therapies is that standard treatment, that has been proven effective, may be abandoned in favour of something that is not.

People desperate for a quick cure become vulnerable and are exploited by claims of "natural" and "non-toxic" therapies. As a result of this diversion, many patients needlessly die. Practitioners promote life-style practices and therapeutic procedures for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer which have not been proved safe or effective. Unfortunately, the terminology used and the way quack cures are promoted often makes the unconventional method seem attractive.

The "alternative" and unproven cancer therapies include: Antineoplastons promoted by Stanislaw R. Burzynski who claimed that it was a substance able to "normalise" cancer cells that are constantly being produced within the body. A 1992 analysis concluded that antineoplastons had not been proven to normalise tumour cells.

CanCell, a liquid claimed to cure cancer and several other diseases by "lowering the voltage of the cell structure by about 20%", causing cancer cells to "digest" and be replaced by normal cells. Laboratory tests conducted between 1978 and 1991 by the National Cancer Institute found no evidence that CanCell was effective against cancer.

Essiac, (Caisse spelled backwards) is a herbal remedy promoted as a cancer cure by Rene M. Caisse, a Canadian nurse. When Caisse died in 1978, the recipe was passed on to the Resperin Corporation which has made millions of dollars selling it. The mixture consists of burdock, rhubarb, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm and shows no anti-tumour activity in animals or humans.

A study by Canada's Bureau of Human Prescription Drugs of patients who used Essiac under a policy that allows cancer patients to use unproven remedies found nothing that made Essiac appear effective.

Laetrile, a chemical extract from apricot pits and other stone fruits was widely promoted variously as a preventative, cure and a control for cancer. In 1982, clinical trials were begun by the Mayo Clinic and three other U.S. cancer centers under the National Cancer Institute's sponsorship. Of 178 patients, not one was cured or stabilised, and none had any lessening of any cancer-related symptoms.

Shark Cartilage was given a boost on a 60 Minutes programme in 1993. Biochemist/entrepreneur I. William Lane, Ph.D., co-author of the book Sharks Don't Get Cancer, claimed that powdered shark cartilage inhibits the growth of new blood vessels needed for the spread of cancer. A study reported at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in May 1997, found shark cartilage ineffective against advanced cancer in adults with a life expectancy of at least 12 weeks.

Claims made by alternative health practitioners in relation to cancer cures can be found under several headings in this book and in the appendix "Gizmos, gadgets, pills and potions", dealing with quack claims.

Cancer cures

Barrett, Stephen. (Ed.) 1980. The Health Robbers: How to protect your money and your life. Geo. F. Strickley Co., Philadelphia.

Chalmers, T. C., Block, J. B., and Lee, S. 1972. Controlled studies in Clinical Cancer Research, New England Journal of Medicine. 287:75-78.

Editors of Consumer Reports Books. 1980. Health Quackery: Consumers' Union's Report on False Health Claims, Worthless Remedies and Unproven Therapies. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. New York.

Lerner, I.J. and Kennedy, B.J. 1992. Prevalence of questionable cancer treatment in the United States. CA-A Cancer J Clinic, 1992. 42:181-91.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technological Assessment. 1990. Unconventional Cancer Treatments. U.S. Govt. Printing Office.

U.S. House of Representatives Report. 1984. Quackery: A $10 Billion Scandal. Bames. U.S. Govt. Printing Office.

(From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics.)