Biological Cancer Treatments

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It is challenging to select unproven biological remedies for this chapter because they are so many to choose from. Many of the hundreds available have been around in one form or another for decades. Others are more recent, often reflecting some minor aspect or language associated with a legitimate scientific advance.

The Gerson regimen is an example of an old "alternative" cancer treatment that remains popular today. Developed by Max Gerson in the 1930s, it involves eating raw fruit and vegetable juices, eliminating salt from the diet, taking many supplements such as potassium, vitamin B12, thyroid hormone and pancreatic enzymes, and using coffee enemas to detoxify the liver and stimulate metabolism. Scientific research does not support any of these ideas.

Moreover, despite proponents' claims of recovery rates as high as 70% to 90%, case reviews by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the New York County Medical Society found no evidence of usefulness for this regimen. An NCI-sponsored study of Gonzalez therapy, which is similar to the Gerson diet and popular today, showed that patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer who underwent standard gemcitabine chemotherapy survived three times longer and had better quality of life than those who chose Gerson-type therapy with pancreatic enzymes, nutritional supplements, detoxification, and an organic diet. This study was reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in April 2010.

People who are diagnosed with cancer or suspect that they may have cancer should immediately seek qualified care. The National Cancer Institute designates top "Comprehensive Cancer Centers" that are within reach of every person in the United States, and similar systems exist in other countries with major cancer centers. A visit to confirm diagnoses and treatment plans that can be implemented in your local hospital is important.

This chapter briefly describes small sampling of additional popular biological cancer treatments, presented in alphabetical order. They all have two things in common: they are not proven to work; and they are potentially dangerous because they are taken into the body, where they can do harm. The other chapters in this section describe additional alternative treatments often applied to treat cancer as well as other illnesses.


Stanislaw Burzynski, MD, PhD, emigrated to the United States from Poland in 1970 and became an assistant professor at the Baylor School of Medicine. He isolated a series of peptides (the main component of proteins) that he termed "antineoplastons." He believes that antineoplastons convert cancer cells into normal cells and are deficient in patients with cancer

Burzynski then developed a cancer treatment aimed at replenishing insufficient antineoplastons. Initially, antineoplastons were isolated from human urine. Later they were synthesized in the laboratory. A main ingredient of antineoplaston therapy is phenylacetate, a fatty acid found in the human body. It is metabolized by the liver and then excreted.

Burzynski left Baylor to establish his own clinic and research institute in Houston. Both remain open and surrounded by controversy. Burzynski and his proponents claim success in curing and bringing about remissions in cancer patients, but others question his credibility as well as his results. Anti-neoplaston therapy, given only in the Burzynski clinic, is given orally or by injection into a vein. The treatments, which last from eight to twelve months cost $30,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on the type of treatment and number of consultations.

Although many articles have been published and dozens of clinical trials against many types of cancer have been ongoing at Dr. Burzynski's clinic for several years, there have been no randomized controlled trials — the type of study that is required for new anticancer drugs to be approved by the FDA and recommended by conventional oncologists.

Although some proponents of antineoplaston therapy have suggested that the reviews of this treatment by conventional cancer specialists are biased by mistrust of alternative therapies, even some prominent figures in the field of "alternative medicine' have expressed reservations. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, "Over the years, Dr. Burzynski claims to have treated more than 8,000 patients, but his success rates are unknown. His website states only that he has helped 'many' people. If antineoplaston therapy works, we should have scientific studies showing what percentage of patients treated have survived and for how long, as well as evidence showing how Dr. Burzynski's method stacks up against conventional cancer treatment Until we have credible scientific evidence showing what antineoplastons are, how they act in the body, and what realistic expectations of treatment with them might be, I see no reason for any cancer patient to take this route."


Cancell, a dark brown liquid, is another well-known biological remedy. It is especially popular in the Midwest and in parts of Florida. Also called Entelev, Formula JS 114, Jim's Juice, Crocinic Acid, and Sheridan's Formula, Cancell was created in 1936 by James Sheridan, a chemist. The idea came to him in a dream that he said was inspired by God.

Proponents believe that Cancell returns cancer cells to their "primitive state," where the Cancell digests them and renders them inert. However, FDA analyses revealed that Cancell is composed of common chemicals (sulfuric acid, nitric acid, potassium hydroxide, sodium sulfite) and that no basis for its claimed effectiveness against cancer exists. There is no evidence that Cancell works against cancer or any other disease.


Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is an industrial solvent, similar to turpentine. A by-product of paper manufacturing, it was first synthesized in 1866. As medication, DMSO was used initially in the early 1960s. Following FDA approval for experimental use, it was applied in topical form to relieve pain, reduce swelling, heal injuries such as muscle strains and sprains and treat arthritis.

Today, DMSO is approved only to treat interstitial cystitis (a bladder disorder) and as veterinary therapy to reduce swelling in horses and dogs. It is under study for conditions including arthritis, sprains, and a skin disorder known as scleroderma. DMSO is also used to deliver drugs through the skin and to preserve living cells when they are frozen.

DMSO has been proposed as a cancer treatment, although evidence for its efficacy as a cancer treatment is virtually nonexistent. DMSO is considered an unproven and ineffective method of treating cancer. DMSO can be obtained in health-food stores and other retail and mail-order outlets. In its commonly sold forms, DMSO can have unpleasant side effects, including burning and itching, and it can cause a powerful, garlic like odor in the breath and skin lasting for several days. It may also contain impurities. Probably the most serious potential danger associated with DMSO is that patients may avoid or delay receipt of medical care in a timely fashion.


First popularized in the early 1920s by Renée Caisse (Essiac is Caisse spelled backward). A Canadian nurse, Caisse claimed that she received the formula from a woman who used it to cure her own breast cancer. This woman, in turn, is said to have been given the unnamed product by a Native American healer living in Ontario, Canada. Caisse first produced Essiac in the form of a tea. Since her death in 1978, several companies started manufacturing Essiac, and their products still compete, each claiming to be the original formula.

Essiac is comprised of four herbs: Indian rhubarb, slippery elm, sorrel, and burdock. Some newer products have added additional herbs. Caisse believed that Essiac worked by attacking the tumor directly, first hardening it, then causing it to soften and break up, and finally discharging the tumor from the body. However, scientific investigation has failed to confirm these claims.

A 1982 study by the Canadian government of cancer patients taking Essiac found that patients did not benefit from it, and laboratory research conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute found no merit to the product. Despite the lack of available scientific evidence, Essiac and more than 40 Essiac-like products remain popular among cancer patients. A year 2000 survey found that almost 15% of Canadian women with breast cancer were using Essiac. It has also become popular in patients with HIV and diabetes, and in healthy individuals for its purported immune-enhancing properties, although there is no scientific research supporting its use.

Related products are available in North America, Europe, and Australia. Flor-Essence® includes the original four herbs plus others added later added as "potentiators" (blessed thistle, red clover, kelp, watercress). Virginias Herbal E-Tonic™ contains the four original herbs along with echinacea and black walnut. Other commercial formulations may include additional ingredients, such as cat's claw ( Uncaria tomentosa).

Hydrazine sulfate

Hydrazine sulfate came to prominence as a cancer therapy around 1970, promoted by Joseph Gold, MD, a cancer researcher in Syracuse, New York.

Hydrazine sulfate is an industrial chemical, used as rocket fuel during World War II. Through a series of studies, Gold developed the idea that hydrazine sulfate could slow the weight loss and wasting of the body, known as cachexia, that often accompanies advanced stages of cancer. He also believed that hydrazine sulfate could enhance the effectiveness of other drugs.

Working initially with terminally ill patients in the 1970s, Gold and other researchers in the United States and Russia found that hydrazine sulfate appeared to inhibit both cachexia and tumor progression when compared with other methods. However, investigations conducted at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, also in the early 1970s, found no positive effect for hydrazine sulfate in treating cancer patients.

In 1994 three methodologically sound studies involving a combined total of 636 cancer patients were published. Each of the three found no positive effect for hydrazine sulfate, which is now considered a disproved and ineffective treatment for cancer.

Oxygen therapies

Oxygen therapies have been promoted for decades as cures for cancer and other diseases. Based on the belief that cancer is caused by a build-up of toxins from pollution, processed foods and other factors, infusing oxygen into the body was said to detoxify the organs and kill cancer cells. No studies support these ideas. In fact, laboratory studies show that cancer cells actually grow more rapidly when supplied with high levels of oxygen, and that low levels of oxygen do not cause the formation of new cancer cells.

Moreover, compared to the amount of oxygen in human blood, the oxygen delivered by hydrogen peroxide, ozone, or "oxygenated water" is minor. Although hydrogen peroxide and ozone kill bacteria and viruses outside of the body, as when pouring hydrogen peroxide on a wound to clean it, animal and human studies show that neither hydrogen peroxide nor ozone kill bacteria and viruses in the human bloodstream.

No scientific evidence supports the value of oxygen therapies for cancer or any other disease.


714-X is the name given to an alternative product developed by Gaston Naessens, a French microbiologist in Quebec, Canada. Naessens invented the "somatoscope," a microscope he said made it possible to see otherwise invisible blood particles that he called "somatids." He used the somatoscope to determine whether treatment with 714-X, a mixture of nitrogen and camphor (to deliver the nitrogen), was working for each particular patient. Naessens theorized that cancer cells are deficient in nitrogen, and that injecting 7l4-X into the lymph system would convert them to normal cells. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that supports the value of this method.

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