Untruths About Cancer in the Failed “Quest for Cures”


“The Quest for the Cures…Continues” is an eleven-episode video documentary series made available intermittently online at thetruthaboutcancer.com to promote dubious cancer treatments euphemistically labeled “alternative medicine.” The most “replay marathon” began November 27th and ran for five days. 

In Part 1, I discussed the marketing of the documentary and the background of its host, Ty Bollinger. 

In Part 2, I began my discussion of the 68-minute Episode 1, which has now been viewed more than 172,000 times on YouTube. I introduced the commentators interviewed in the video, provided a list of ten types of deceptive ploys that commentators make to shift viewers’ trust away from standard treatment methods and toward so-called “alternative” methods, discussed the activities of some of the commentators, and described details about the first three types of deceptive ploys: #1 The Passionate Personal Ploy, #2 The Doctors-Don’t-Know-About-Nutrition Ploy, and #3 The Oncologists-Wouldn’t-Give-Themselves-Chemotherapy Ploy.

In Part 3, I discussed two more deceptive ploys used in Episode 1: #4 The Hippocratic Oath Ploy and #5 The Allopathic Medical Monopoly Ploy. I also discussed the weird, unimpressive qualifications of the two commentators who pitched Ploy #5.

I see plenty of irony in the sixth ploy used in Episode 1. I discuss it in detail below.
Ploy #6: The Medical Industrial Complex Ploy

This ploy is frequently encountered as a close companion to the allopathic medical monopoly ploy. It exploits widespread frustration about serious problems patients seeking health care encounter, particularly in the United States. The ploy is an attempt to convince patients that various “nutrition-based” and other “alternative” treatments are suppressed because medical business interests take precedent over the best interests of patients.

In Episode 1, three commentators pitch this ploy. 

Nutrition writer Patrick Quillin uses the medical industrial complex cliché after he comments that there are vested interests in health care. 

Holistic medicine practitioner David Brownstein, M.D. refers to a “cancer-industrial complex to feed itself more money than it needs” and notes that “a lot of conventional therapies are harmful and toxic to the body and they don’t prolong life” (while omitting the fact that such therapies are of well established value in improving quality of life and survival when indicated). 

Notorious nonsensical news nudnik Mike Adams chimes in with complaints about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. After all, the medical industrial complex ploy is not complete without objecting to regulatory agencies set up for consumer protection.

Yes, we should be concerned about how vested interests in the health care delivery system conflict with the best interest of patients in the health care industry. But it’s not as if the commentators appearing in “The Quest for the Cures…Continues” who promote “alternative” treatments are free of their own vested interests.

Quillin’s Web site indicates that his 15 books, which include Beating Cancer with Nutrition, have sold over a million copies. It’s far easier to sell health books that suggest appealing solutions than it is to sell books promoting healthy skepticism.

According to his curriculum vitae posted at his patrickquillin.com, Quillin worked for ten years as the Vice President of Nutrition for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), an organization founded in 1988 that manages hospitals in several cities and advertises frequently on television and in health-related magazines. The advertising emphasizes CTCA’s so-called integrative medicine services such as naturopathic medicine, chiropractic care, and mind-body medicine that are combined with standard cancer treatments. Is CTCA free of vested interests and somehow distinct from the medical industrial complex?

Critics have charged that CTCA patients have been subjected to questionable treatments, expensive and unnecessary tests, and hospital treatment in situations where less expensive outpatient treatment is standard practice. In 2013, Reuters reported that CTCA's published patient survival statistics were misleadingly high. Percentages are boosted by turning away many patients who are older, are uninsured or on Medicaid, or have received prior treatment, and therefore are likely to have a less favorable prognosis than the average patient listed in the National Cancer Institutes SEER database. In 1996. CTCA and two of its affiliated hospitals agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that they had made false and unsubstantiated claims that their survivorship rate for cancer patients was among the highest recorded and that whole body hyperthermia could successfully treat certain forms of cancer that were previously unresponsive to standard treatments.

Although it does not appear that Quillin’s leadership enabled CTCA to beat cancer with nutrition, he does have some substantial qualifications. He’s a registered and licensed dietitian and a Certified Nutrition Specialist with a master’s degree in applied human nutrition. But he is introduced in the video and on his Web site as “Dr.” Quillin. His curriculum vitae indicates that his Ph.D. was in Nutrition Education from Kensington University with years of study as 1979-1981. I’m not very impressed that he took no more than three years to complete the degree since Kensington was an unaccredited correspondence school based in Glendale, California. In 1996, state regulators ordered its closure for awarding degrees without proper academic standards and other violations. In 2003, the institution’s corporation status in Hawaii was dissolved by court order.

Dr. Brownstein is the Medical Director of the Center for Holistic Medicine in West Bloomfield, Michigan, which advertises for sale “detoxification supplements,” “immune support” supplements, daily supplements, homeopathic products, essential oils, and other nostrums priced to offer a significant profit margin. Many responsible physicians would like to have the Center’s income stream from such sales, but in the best interest of their patients they don’t engage in nutritional faddism, cultism, and pseudoscience. 

According to Mike Adams, “There is a system of censorship of nutritional knowledge.” Ah, the medical industrial complex as censor!

But somehow this alleged censorship system hasn’t reached the supposed nutrition knowledge of Quillin and Brownstein and other promoters of nutrition hype featured in “The Quest for the Cures…Continues.” An important reason for this was on display in October. The dietary supplement industry in the United States celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) by honoring its sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The industry has thrived since DSHEA reduced the Food and Drug Administration's ability to protect consumers from misleadingly marketed and labeled products. 

Under DSHEA, the label for dietary supplements can include make claims for improving bodily structure or function without any premarket approval. What Adams might call censorship is that dietary supplement labels cannot include claims to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Such claims on labels are only permissible for approved drugs in the United States. But there is no shortage of misleading propaganda available to consumers (for example, from Mike Adams himself) to suggest uses of dietary supplements.

Regarding the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Adams says: “Their position is that you are not a complete human being unless you have interventionist chemical medicine or vaccines.” He continues: “There is a system that is trying to extinguish indigenous knowledge of anti-cancer herbs, foods, and medicines.” 

I’m afraid that I have been unable to locate FDA’s position statement on "complete human beings". And apparently, Adams is under the impression that herbs, foods, and medicines are made of something other than chemicals. 

Indigenous knowledge really means the shared personal experience within communities. That kind of experience can be valuable for generating ideas about what might be useful in some way for health enhancement. But most ideas for preventing or treating challenging, complex diseases like cancers don’t pan out in clinical testing and wind up being dead ends in the quest for cures. 

Rigorously designed clinical tests enable investigators to avoid misinterpreting effects of chance, errors, and other influences as real biological actions of treatments. Indigenous knowledge often means jumping to unwarranted conclusions because of misinterpreted experience.

Various organizations and individuals—such as Adams—celebrate non-validated beliefs of indigenous people regarding products promoted as anti-cancer herbs, foods, and medicines. Adams has vested interests in promoting fear of modern medicine, fear of chemicals, and hype for various “natural” products. A wide range of nonsensical products are available for sale at his online store at Naturalnews.com.

Recently, CBC announced that a judge in Ontario, Canada rejected Hamilton Hospital’s application for the Children’s Aid Society to intervene in the case of an aboriginal girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia whose parents stopped her chemotherapy and took her to the Hippocrates Health Institute (HHI) in Florida. HHI teaches its customers to “‘heal themselves’ from cancer by eating raw, organic vegetables and having a positive attitude” and offers various preposterous detoxification treatments. The main similarities between what HHI offers and many indigenous medicines is lack of plausible value and lack of validation in scientific clinical testing.

“We are spontaneous self-healing beings,” argues Adams in the documentary. “We’re programmed from the day we’re born to heal ourselves if we give our bodies the right nutrients and don’t poison ourselves with dangerous toxins.”

The ‘if’ in that statement gives the promoters of anti-cancer nonsense a convenient out. When the self-healing strategy fails to save cancer patients, quacks can argue that they didn’t do what it takes to heal. It’s a blame-the-victim setup with plenty of extra blame pointed at the medical industrial complex with its “interventionist chemical medicines” as a source of “toxins.”

Promoters of anti-cancer nonsense avoid blaming themselves when patients don’t respond to “alternative” treatments, but they are happy to take credit for any subjective changes that wishful thinkers might be inclined to label as healing. 

The prognosis for the aboriginal girl would have been excellent if she had completed her chemotherapy without interruption, but it’s poor without completing her chemotherapy. Instead of allowing the girl to continue with chemotherapy, the family has reportedly spent $18,000 to get the supposedly “right nutrients” to her while supposedly removing her “toxins.” 

Instead of clarifying that there are good and bad uses of specific chemical rather than good versus bad chemicals, Adams irresponsibly demonizes synthetic chemicals, including chemotherapy treatments, as “toxins.” I hope I’m not too pedantic in pointing out that toxins are poisonous substances generated through natural biological processes (e.g., bacterial toxins, fungal toxins), not synthetic chemicals. Natural does not mean inherently safe and synthetic does not mean inherently dangerous.

The Bottom Line

Vested interests in health care are real, but the approach taken in “The Quest for the Cures...Continues” is unduly cynical about standard approaches to cancer management. Cancer patients need to be cautious, but should also recognize that standard approaches to managing cancer are the best game in town, supposed natural solutions aren’t viable alternatives, and promoters. If you’re concerned about vested interests, it makes sense to consider the vested interests of people who complain about other people’s vested interests. 

I see the medical industrial complex as far too tolerant of “natural” healing nonsense promoted in “The Quest for the Cures…Continues.” The tolerance can be attributed in part to vested interests of health care as business. In recent years, marketing considerations have led to a proliferation of integrative medicine and integrative oncology programs in academic medical centers (with support from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) and hospitals. These programs offer some, if not the most worrisome, treatments promoted in the most irresponsible renegade cancer clinics in the world. 

Focusing on vested interests is cynical. What really counts is epidemiologic and clinical evidence for claims made. I look forward to discussing some of this evidence in the next part of this series when I discuss Ploy #7: The Cancer Holocaust Ploy, as pitched in “The Quest for the Cures...Continues.”  I'll also finish up my discussion of the documentary with commentary on these ploys:

Ploy #8: The Health Freedom Ploy

Ploy #9: The Cancer-Is-The-Symptom Ploy

Ploy #10: The Untested Drug Combination Ploy

Stay tuned.