Untruths About Cancer in the Failed “Quest for Cures”

 

The 68-minute first episode of the 11-part video documentary series “The Quest for Cures…Continues” features several deceptive ploys commonly used by promoters of so-called alternative cancer treatments in order to recruit patients. These promoters are well organized to undermine trust in the expertise of oncologists (and modern medicine, in general) while portraying “alternative” cancer treatment as superior and unfairly dismissed by “the medical establishment.” 

In Part 1 of my critique, I provided background about the documentary and its host Ty Bollinger. In this part, I introduce the commentators Bollinger interviews to pitch the ploys, list ten types of ploys, discuss the first three ploys, and describe the background and activities of some of the commentators. I’ll continue my discussion of the remaining ploys and of the commentators in an upcoming critique [Part 3] for Swift.
PictureTony Jimenez, MD at the 2009 Cancer Control Society annual meeting standing in front of his exhibit. Photo: William M. London.
Introducing Bollinger’s Commentators

Each interview subject in Episode 1 is introduced with two or three lines of onscreen text.

For example:

Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, M.D., Ph.D.
Scientist and Biochemist

It always bugs me when a name followed by doctoral degree abbreviations is superfluously preceded with “Dr.” The redundancy make it looks like someone out of touch with higher education is trying too hard to tout credentials to make an impression. Consumers do well to recognize that people with advanced degrees also can advance claptrap, especially when they present themselves as revolutionaries who are way ahead of their time. 

According to Bollinger, Burzynski “has been heavily persecuted by the Texas Medical Board and the FDA.” Burzynski told Bollinger that his treatment works, which makes it a serious threat to “Big Pharma.” He said: “Perhaps some investigative reporter can really deal with them and prove their corruption and clear this up. They’re suffocating research.” And Burzynski endorsed Bollinger’s notion that medicine is working in the dark ages.

In a previous commentary on Swift, I described how Burzynski announced that the Food and Drug Administration has given approval for him to treat diffuse intrinsic brainstem glioma (DIPG) patients with antineoplastons (his dubious, toxic, synthesized “alternative” drug treatment) in a clinical trial with no blinding of observers despite Burzynski’s long history of abuses of the clinical trial process. I called on journalists to investigate FDA’s disgraceful coddling of Burzynski.

Also interviewed in Episode 1 are (according to the redundant onscreen text):

Dr. Irvin Sahni, M.D., Physician, Surgeon, and Chemist

Dr. Tony Jimenez, M.D., Scientist, Lecturer, and Researcher

Dr. Robert Scott Bell, D.A. Hom, Author, Lecturer, and Syndicated Radio Host

G. Edward Griffin, Author, Lecturer, and Filmmaker

Dr. Darrell Wolfe, Ac. Ph.D., “The Doc of Detox” Author and Lecturer

Dr. Patrick Quillin, Ph.D., R.D., C.N.S.,  Author, Lecturer, and Nutritional Expert

Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D., Lecturer and Integrative Physician

Dr. Sunil Pai, M.D., Integrative Medicine, Physician, Lecturer, and Researcher

Dr. David Brownstein, M.D., Best-selling Author, Lecturer, and Researcher

Burton Goldberg, aka “The Voice of Alternative Medicine”, Best-selling Author and Lecturer

Jonathan W. Emord, Esq., “The FDA Dragonslayer"

Mike Adams, aka “The Health Ranger”,  Food Scientist, Author, and Lecturer

Dr. Roby Mitchell, M.D. aka “Dr. Fitt”, Orthomolecular Medicine Specialist

Dr. Véronique Desaulniers, D.C. (“Dr. V.”), Author, Lecturer, Cancer Survivor

Dr. Linda Isaacs, M.D., Scientist, Physician, and Author

Dr. Rashid Buttar, D.O., Best-selling Author and Lecturer

Chris Wark, Cancer Survivor, Author, and Lecturer

Dr. Charles Major, D.C., Cancer Survivor, Author, and Lecturer

Dr. Bradford S. Weeks, M.D., Lecturer, Scientist, and Researcher

K. C. Craichy, Author and Nutritional Expert, CEO of LivingFuel

Dr. James Forsythe, M.D., Board-Certified Oncologist and Homeopath

Dr. Ben Johnson, M.D., N.M.D., D.O., Author, Lecturer, and Researcher

Dr. Keith Scott Mumby, M.D., Ph.D., Best-selling Author and Lecturer

Yes, there is some hyping of expertise and qualifications like homeopathic degrees, which are no more impressive than degrees in alchemy. I was already acquainted with the activities of some of Bollinger’s guests and I would not hesitate to nominate some for induction into a “Who’s Who of Woo.”


Ten Types of Deceptive Ploys

I noticed these ten types of ploys made by commentators in Episode 1:

  • The Passionate Personal Ploy
  • The Doctors-Don’t-Know-About-Nutrition Ploy
  • The Oncologists-Wouldn’t-Give-Themselves-Chemotherapy Ploy
  • The Hippocratic Oath Ploy
  • The Allopathic Medical Monopoly Ploy
  • The Medical Industrial Complex Ploy
  • The Cancer Holocaust Ploy
  • The Health Freedom Ploy
  • The Cancer-Is-The-Symptom Ploy
  • The Untested Drug Combination Ploy

Consumers are likely to encounter most of these ploys wherever “alternative” treatments of chronic disease are promoted. I offer comments on each ploy (in this and the next post) because they often go unchallenged.

Ploy #1: The Passionate Personal Ploy

The last nine minutes of Episode 1 features the story of Cathy Pethel of Knoxville, Tennessee who is presented as a role model: a cancer survivor who turned to “alternative” cancer treatment. Her story isn’t illuminating about cancer treatment, but telling her story plays on the emotions of viewers.

We are told that Pethel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. But there is nothing extraordinary about surviving two years following diagnosis of breast cancer, even at Stage IV. Watching Pethel reminded me of the story of Kathy Keeton who attributed her survival of almost two years after she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer to taking hydrazine sulfate. On his television show, Montel Williams touted Keeton’s survival as a miracle. But Keeton died during surgery to correct complications of her disease nine months after the taping.

Pethel claims that breast cancer is the number cancer one killer of women. In the United States, that’s not true for most ethnic/racial groups. While in the U.S. breast cancer is more than twice as common as lung cancer, lung cancer kills almost twice as many women as does breast cancer.


Ploy #2: The Doctors-Don’t-Know-About-Nutrition Ploy

This ploy is used to lead consumers to believe that there are nutritional cures for cancer that doctors don’t have the expertise to appreciate. Offering this ploy are Dr. Sahni and Dr. Jimenez. Conspiracy-theorist G. Edward Griffin also asserts that doctors aren’t taught about “natural cures” or nutrition in medical school.

Dr. Sahni says that the nutritional training doctors receive in medical school is pretty much none. “No one’s interested in talking to you about losing weight…quitting smoking,” he continues. “No real incentive to promote true health.”

He says the incentives for doctors are to write prescriptions for medications. “The system is designed to create chronic disease. There’s no money in being healthy. There’s no money in being dead.” He concludes: “Nobody can tell me I’m wrong because it’s true. It’s a fact; it’s not open for discussion.”

I’ll open it anyway. Yes, we need to provide more incentives for health promotion (with science-based strategies), but the insertion of Dr. Sahni’s argument into the video is a red herring. Implementing improvements in medical school nutrition education recommended by real nutrition experts will not lead medical students to embrace the types of nutritionally oriented cancer quackery favored by Bollinger and which have been found to produce inferior outcomes for breast cancer patients. And while the U.S. health care system provides insufficient support for health care professionals to counsel patients about lifestyle improvements, doctors regularly recommend that patients lose weight and quit smoking.

I had not heard of Dr. Sahni, but I looked him up and discovered he’s an orthopedic surgeon specializing in minimally invasive spinal surgery. I don’t know how Bollinger justifies calling him a chemist. None of Dr. Sahni’s comments refer specifically to what the program is about: the quest for cancer cures. It wasn’t clear to me that Dr. Sahni is sympathetic to the notion of nutritional cancer cures until I discovered that he provided an enthusiastic endorsement for Bollinger’s book promoting nonsensical cancer cures and medical conspiracies.

Dr. Antonio Jimenez claims that there is just 30 minutes of nutrition instruction in medical school. But survey data on U.S. medical schools from 2006 to 2009 indicate that students receive on average 19.6 contact hours of nutrition instruction, which does not include what they learn in their medical education after they earn the M.D. degree.

“Doctors don’t know anything about nutrition,” says Dr. Jimenez. But other than the few doctors who would be impressed by Bollinger’s research, they know more than enough about nutrition, cancer, and clinical research to recognize that the aberrant nutritional and other treatments Jimenez offers at Hope4Cancer Institute in Tijuana provide only false hope for cancer patients. 

The Hope4Cancer Web site promotes a dubious nutrition program that includes the Zyto scanning gimmick for nutritional assessment, the unproven ALCAT test for food sensitivity testing, a demanding regimen similar to metabolic therapy including coffee enemas, juice fasting, vitamin C, laetrile, and alkalinization nonsense. Jimenez has a nutritional knowledge problem, but it isn’t so much what he doesn’t know that should make prospective patients wary; it’s what he knows that isn’t so.


Ploy #3: The Oncologists-Wouldn’t-Give-Themselves-Chemotherapy Ploy

Referring to chemotherapy, Dr. Jimenez says “86% of oncologists polled wouldn’t give themselves what they give their patients.” 

Dr. Sunil Pai says: “About 90% of physicians, particularly in oncology, would not prescribe the drug that they give to their patients to their wife or child.” 

They offer the kind of sweeping generalization used throughout “The Quest for Cures…Continues.”

Jimenez and Pai cite no specific poll and don’t discuss the type of chemotherapy regimen, the cancer diagnosis, or anything about the patient that oncologists were asked about. On the Anaximperator blog, beatis provided citations for relevant published poll data and found ample evidence refuting the claim that oncologists refuse chemotherapy on themselves when indicated. As noted by the cancer researcher and surgeon known as Orac, depending on the diagnosis and the specific drugs and other treatments used, chemotherapy can be curative, life extending, symptom relieving, of little benefit, or more harmful than beneficial. And when the value of recommended chemotherapy is no more than speculated, patients are informed.

Consumers would do well to consider what percentage of oncologists would recommend that their family members with cancer seek false-hope treatments like those offered by Jimenez and Pai.

Dr. Pai’s Albuquerque, New Mexico practice includes treatments that are inconsistent with biomedical knowledge and lacking in clinical research evidence. For example, Pai provides homeopathy, auriculotherapy, bioidentical hormones, functional medicine, and Ayurveda along with its Panchakarma rituals for supposed cleansing and detoxification. He claims to specialize in treating in 24 different “areas” including cancer.
 
He presents himself as “Board Certified in Holistic Integrative Medicine,” a certification not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). I searched the ABMS database and found board certifications for five physicians with the last name Pai, but not for Sunil Pai, whose bio page indicates he had a residency in family medicine at the University of New Mexico. No board certification in family medicine, Dr. Pai?

  His bio page includes a picture of him next to a large wall unit full of bottles that probably represents his “Sanjevani Nutgraceuticals/Cosmeceuticals products” line. A similar picture of the shelves appears on a page for his Sanjevani Integrative medicine & Lifestyle Center and indicates that the center “offers an in-house pharmacy of all its clinically tested, safe and effective custom-formulated dietary supplements, herbs, homeopathics as well as skincare and cosmetics.”
 
  Consumers should consider the conflict of interest of a physician operating an in-house pharmacy featuring his own product line. Pai’s products are also sold through his own Web store (sanjevanistore.com). He has a site (bosmeric-sr.com) dedicated to his store’s flagship product, a concoction of herbs. On that site he advertises the product with this disease claim: 

From Allergies to Asthma. From Fibromyalgia to Arthritis. From Colitis to Cancer, research now suggests that most, if not all, disease begins and worsens with inflammation. Bosmeric-SR is the strongest natural supplement for pain and inflammation support, containing the highest clinical doses of natural COX-2 and 5-LOX inhibitors. My patients have dramatic results using Bosmeric-SR."† [Quotation marks in the original.]
 
This disease-specific language should qualify as an unapproved drug claim despite the inclusion of this version of what Peter A. Lipson, MD called the Quack Miranda Warning in small print at the bottom of the page:
 
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Always check with your physician before starting a new dietary supplement program.
 
Also on the page on November 16th was this announcement:
 
 
Due to overwhelming demand from Truth About Cancer: Quest for The Cures... Continues, an 11 part documentary mini-series, we are currently on backorder for Bosmeric-SR. Our estimated time of arrival is mid November.
 
It seems that Pai was well-trained in entrepreneurial skills. He was a Fellow of the Program in Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona under the direction of Andrew Weil, MD (whose drweil.com site has promoted products with claims that define them as unapproved drugs ) and he received certification as a “Primordial Sound Meditation Instructor” and a “Creating Health (Ayurveda Lifestyle) Instructor” from master merchant and mumbo-jumbo pro Deepak Chopra, MD.
 
  In Episode 1, Pai is critical of oncology and “conventional medicine.” He advises viewers to “follow the money.” Prospective patients and customers who take Dr. Pai’s cynical advice seriously would do well to follow how he makes his money.
 

  A Final Word

  The late Victor Herbert, M.D. described so-called holistic medicine as “a mélange of banalities, truisms, exaggerations, and falsehoods, overlaid with disparagement not only of scientific conclusions but of logical reason itself.” That description also fits Episode 1 of “The Quest for Cures…Continues,” which has already been viewed more than 142,000 times on YouTube. In Part 3 of my critique, I’ll provide additional details about the mélange for viewers of the docu-series to scrutinize.