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reader comments: natural cancer cures
July 27, 2016
I used to be a follower of [Ty Bollinger's] The Truth About Cancer (TTAC) series. When some of the claims they were making seemed a bit far-fetched, I expanded my reading and discovered The Skeptic's Dictionary. Boy, was I in for a journey, which included eating some humble pie with friends and family, whom I've been criticising for believing in their conventional doctors, vaccines, etc. It is amazing how forgiving people can be when you admit that you were wrong.
If you're interested, I can share my experience in more detail, but to cut a long story short: I've been following TTAC on Facebook and when they perpetuate claims by the likes of Dr. Viera Scheibner, Mike Adams, David Wolfe (you know the crowd), I would post refuting arguments with references. Over the course of a couple of weeks to a month, it became apparent that some of my comments were disappearing. This escalated to the point where they've now removed all my previous comments and the ability to comment on any of their articles. As the author of a site that attracts a lot of criticism, how do you feel about the way they've dealt with this? Is there anything that can be done about it? When publishing information publicly, do you have a moral or legal obligation in regards with publishing criticism?
reply: I think their behavior speaks for itself. I don't think you can do anything about except spread the word about what this crowd is doing through social media and websites like mine. I don't think there is a moral or legal obligation to publish criticism but if you have a website where you invite people to comment I think you have a moral obligation not to remove critical comments only because they are critical.
Initially I thought the disappearing comments was due to a glitch, I was quite surprised that they would go to these lengths. All I can do is say that I never used profanity and while the occasional argument did get heated, I don't think it ever got out of hand. I rather think the links I posted to sites such as yours, is what caused their action. Or maybe it was because I started questioning on their Facebook page whether they were removing my comments, and stating such action would be highly hypocritical from a group proclaiming that the truth is being kept from the public.
reply: In some ways these "natural cancer cures" folks are like religious fanatics who think it is morally acceptable to lie for Jesus and engage in other deceptions they think will bring people in to share their delusions.
Unfortunately, I did not keep copies of my posts. If there is anything to be achieved by it, I'm sure I can replicate the events with a secondary account though. Or, should I take their actions as a compliment and leave it at that? Anyway, I wanted to share with you and thank you for opening my eyes to skeptical thinking.
reply: I wouldn't take their actions as a compliment, but you'd probably be wasting your time confronting these folks whose belief armor is impenetrable to most of their minions.
11 Mar 2015 (JR to Bob Carroll)
I am very interested in finding out as much as I can about cancer at the moment.
reply: So am I. The moment my doctor told me I had cancer my whole world changed. I've spent the last nine months trying to find out as much as I can about my particular kind of cancer: pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Did you know that there are more than 200 different kinds of cancer? Any one of our 32 trillion cells could become cancerous, i.e., immortal. One of the first things I learned about cancer is that it is not so much a disease where cells keep multiplying but rather it is a disease where cells won't die. A normal cell can divide only about 50 to 70 times before it dies (apoptosis). Cancer cells continue to live and replicate forever unless we remove them by surgery or kill them (with chemicals, radiation, or by starvation) or they use up their fuel supply, i.e., kill us.
One of the first things I learned about my kind of cancer is that there isn't even universal agreement on how to classify it. For a long time all neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) were called 'carcinoid tumors.' Nowadays most doctors distinguish carcinoid from pancreatic NETs. You will still find some medical centers classifying pancreatic cancer into exocrine and endocrine, even though they are extremely distinct and the treatments for each are vastly different. This becomes obvious when you look at a chart of the odds of survival with both kinds of pancreatic cancer.
The most obvious fact is that there is not going to be one magic cure-all for cancer. Another obvious fact is that there is not going to be an oncologist, much less a natural-cure enthusiast, who is going to understand all the different kinds of cancer equally well and be equally competent in treating patients with vastly different kinds of cancers. Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer occurs in 3 to 4 people per million each year. There are at least a half dozen different kinds PNETs. Those of us who have symptoms don't have the same symptoms. Most of us don't have any symptoms at all, which accounts for the fact that by the time we are correctly diagnosed, our tumors have metastasized and we are designated stage IV. There is no stage V. What are the odds that some maverick genius working in his kitchen with herbs and spices is going to find "the cure" for cancer?
Upon reading your article, I saw several times that you said that not enough or no human testing has been done to support the doctors’ findings, and that the tests that were done on rats are not conclusive enough.
reply: Yes. Most of the natural cures I've come across either have nothing but anecdotal evidence supporting them or the clinical studies have been limited to killing cancer cells in a petri dish or to promising results with rodents. If a substance doesn't kill cancer cells in the petri dish or in some other mammal, then it is not likely going to be an effective cancer treatment for humans. But many things kill cells in the lab that don't have the same effect on a living creature. And while we share many physiological features with other mammals, there is no guarantee that something that works well with rats will work equally well with humans. Furthermore, even if a natural herb or spice "boosts the immune system," the amount needed to be effective in destroying cancer cells in a living person is not likely to be realistically consumable. It is possible, though, that labs may figure out how to concentrate and put in pill form some chemical in an herb that is found to be effective in killing cancer cells. Until the evidence is in that the herb is anti-carcinogenic and can be safely put into a concentrated form we should not jump on the bandwagon and make irresponsible claims that you can cure cancer by sprinkling turmeric on your salad every day or adding a dash of cinnamon to your oatmeal.
So I have just some questions and comments. Don’t you think that it is super expensive to perform tests on humans to see if the natural cures are going to work? And don’t you think that no drug company, nor the FDA would support any study that would prove that a natural cure would work on humans? And knowing that fact, wouldn't’t you say that all this sucks for the cancer patients who are near death?
reply: Cancer patients who are near death are the most vulnerable to the unjustified promises made by pushers of natural cures like Mike Adams. It is an ugly fact that many cancer patients are near death and that scientific medicine cannot keep them alive forever or perhaps for even another week. What really sucks is giving false hope to people who should be spending their last days with their loved ones rather than chasing around the globe for a laetrile or stem cell treatment in the hopes that they can beat death. What really sucks are the natural cure advocates who make up lie after lie about surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments for cancer in order to scare cancer patients into trying implausible natural cures.
Drug companies are not the only ones looking for cancer cures. There are people at Uppsala University in Sweden doing research on NETs (neuroendocrine tumors) who are seeking donations and plan to work mainly funded by the public. The Caring for Carcinoid Foundation is funding a clinical trial at Stanford and elsewhere on immunotherapy for NET patients. I take drugs that are cytotoxic and if I live another 10 or 20 years I may get blood cancer because of them but it will have been worth it because after six months they've shrunk my tumors (in the pancreas and liver) by about 50% and they've stopped the spread of the tumors. I feel great, except for some fatigue and ringing in the ears, and am monitored closely for problems that might occur with red or white blood cells, kidney function, etc. If there were any plausibility to the natural cures I've looked at, there would be lots of research on them. In fact, there are about a dozen clinical trials going on right now with turmeric--to name just one--and its potential as an anti-cancer substance. Every scientist on the planet would love to find a cure for any of the 200 different kinds of cancers there are. What sucks are the people who make up stories about cancer research and chemotherapy and who promise cures with baking soda or bleach or some fad diet.
And it is good to be skeptical, and think critically, I totally agree with that. But it seems that the drug companies won’t ever let the real cures get out as they would lose billions of dollars. G-d knows what their rationale is for keeping people sick and letting them die. They seem to want to let them die instead of proving that natural cures combined in different forms would work.
reply: I've heard this complaint before and I must admit that I don't understand how anyone can take it seriously. Of course, if all cancers could be cured with celery or something equally cheap and available, then there would be no money in cancer surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, oncology, etc. The idea that the drug companies are preventing us from knowing about these cheap, natural cures in order to keep us sick so we'll buy their drugs has no basis in reality. First of all, there are no cheap, natural cures to suppress. Secondly, drug companies aren't the only ones doing research on cancer. Third, if you know anything at all about the human body, the immune system, and even a small bit about one or two of the 200 types of cancers there are, then you know that cancer is extremely complicated and the likelihood of there being a simple, cheap, natural cure for all cancers is about zero.
Critical thinking would prove that since chemo kills the immune system because it targets sick & healthy cells, that it should be banned and stopped in its tracks.
reply: Chemo doesn't kill the immune system. If it did, it would never be used because it would be counterproductive to treat a patient with a procedure you know will kill the patient. There are dozens of different kinds of chemotherapy and they don't all have the same effects on people with the same kind of cancer. All of us on chemotherapy are monitored and our treatment is stopped sometimes because the drugs are having an adverse effect that outweighs the benefits of continuing the treatment. It is true that some of us are lucky and do not suffer much from chemotherapy while receiving great benefits. Others suffer immensely and with little benefit. Just as there is no "one-cure-fits-all" for cancer, there is no "one-common-response" for everyone undergoing some form of chemotherapy. It is pitiful when a patient who is dying is made to suffer even more during his or her last days by undergoing pointless chemotherapy or surgery. But it is equally pitiful when a patient is lured into trying to prolong his or her life by traveling to a foreign country for a miracle cure that doesn't exist. And it is not just pitiful but extremely troubling that some people will trust their lives to total strangers they meet on the Internet who claim they cured their own or somebody else's cancer by some miracle diet or natural substance.
However without further testing due to lack of gov’t and institutional support, and as a result, proof that natural cures work, a cancer patient is left alone with a doctor who believes he is G-d. And who is now the only “friend” that the cancer patient believes as they are desperate. But since most cancer patients die, isn’t it safe to say that more should be done to support the natural way? The alternative way?
reply: Cancer patients aren't the only ones who die. We all die. Scientists who do cancer research are intelligent, dedicated human beings. There is a reason most of them don't waste their time studying baking soda or red clover: these natural cures are mostly implausible. More should be done to understand how cancer cells mutate and deceive the immune system into thinking they're healthy cells. More should be done to keep track of all the patients with all the different kinds of cancers being treated with many different drugs. A database of all cancer patients might yield some information on what is likely to work for a given person with a given kind of cancer. More should be done to understand the genome of different cancers. But should more be done to feed into the delusions of the natural-cure folks. I don't think so.
I started reading the Cancer Tutor article and was blown away, but then I read your article and I said “Wait”. Who’s right here? For someone who might have cancer, what should they do?
reply: Good, that gives me hope that my work here is not all in vain.