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Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61712-2004Mar15.html

Posted on: 03/16/2004

Quack Cancer Cures

washingtonpost.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2004; Page HE03

BOGUS TREATMENTS Coffee enemas, the desert shrub chaparral and an extract from apricot pits are not just of unknown value in treating cancer; these and many other substances held out as alternative therapies have proved worthless in clinical trials. Yet, writes Andrew Vickers in the current issue of the American Cancer Society journal CA, there's been little effort to make clinicians and patients aware of that. It's time, argues Vickers, for that to change.

THE EVIDENCE Vickers, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, reviewed studies of 12 alternative therapies. One study looked at a $7,000 detoxification therapy offered by a San Diego clinic, which held that the bacterium "Progenitor cryptocides" causes cancer. The clinic claimed an 82 percent cure rate. Not only is there no such bacterium, but University of Pennsylvania researchers found that the clinic's patients lived no longer than those receiving standard therapies. Claims about other therapies -- shark fin cartilage, vitamin C, psychotherapy -- also failed to withstand scrutiny.

THE PROBLEM Rigorous, independent trials of alternative therapies are rare; more often, studies are conducted by promoters and can be "quite sophisticated in how they mislead," said Vickers. For some studies, said Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, "We're not sure [the participants] even had cancer."

FALSE HOPE Patients with late-stage cancers appear most likely to turn to alternative therapies, said Jeffrey White, director of complementary and alternative medicine at the National Cancer Institute, "[but] are 500 or 15,000 patients using vitamin C? There's no data."

Oncologists and patients, said White, need to be educated about alternative cancer treatments that are clearly bogus.

-- Matt McMillen

© 2004 The Washington Post Company



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