One of the recurring themes of Science-based medicine is that we live in the age of misinformation. The internet and social networking have made everyone their own expert – by democratizing information (which I favor, as it has many benefits to society) the field has been leveled for various types and sources of information. But this has the very negative effect of equalizing information in terms of quality as well – so low quality and even outright incorrect or fraudulent information can compete on equal footing with more reliable, vetted, and professionally sourced material. That is exactly why one of the primary goals of SBM is to be a resource for consumers and professionals to help sort through it all.

Recently David Gorski sent around a link to an e-book, Natural Cancer Treatments, that epitomizes the dark underbelly of health misinformation on the internet.

The book opens up with the standard disclaimer that ostensibly is to protect the public but in reality is simply legal cover for the purveyors of misinformation – it says to seek the advice of your physician and that this book is not meant to discourage anyone from seeking standard therapy for cancer. This is boiler plate CYA for quacks. It is also utter hypocrisy as it is placed immediately below two quotations that set the tone for the book:

“It should be forbidden and severely punished to remove cancer by cutting, burning, cautery, and other fiendish tortures. It is from nature that the disease comes, and from nature comes the cure, not from physicians.”
Paracelsus, (1493-1541 AD)

“…. never take defeat. When all is lost, try something new. Life is too precious to let it slip away from lack of initiative or plain inertia.”
Hulda Regehr Clark, Ph.D.,N.D. “The Cure for All Advanced Cancers”

The Paracelsus quote essentially says to forgo standard therapy, and don’t trust your doctor – in direct contradiction to the disclaimer. I would also point out that, while Paracelsus was an interesting figure in the history of medicine, he did practice in an essentially pre-scientific era. He fought with the establishment medicine of his time, but this was a fight between two pre-scientific systems. He was criticizing Galenic medicine – which bears no resemblance to modern medicine. The medicine of his time was largely worse than doing nothing, and so the often magical interventions of Paracelsus (he was first and foremost an alchemist) were an improvement. He is also an ironic person to quote, as he focused his attention on using toxic minerals to treat disease. The “natural” cures he was talking about were horrible toxins long out of favor as part of medicine.  For example he favored the use of mercury to treat syphilis.

The second quote essentially encourages acting out of desperation. There is, of course, a kernel of reasonable advice in the notion of not giving up. But it must be tempered by reality – whereas Hulda Clark and other cancer quacks take these words of encouragement to their absurd extreme – try anything, especially the implausible treatment that they are trying to sell. Clark, who recently died of cancer, believed that all cancer, and in fact all disease, is caused by a liver fluke.

The introduction is far worse, in which the authors state:

The consensus of the majority of alternative cancer therapists is that, the chance of full recovery using alternative therapies is almost 100%. with a newly diagnosed condition of early cancer, before any traumatic or toxic treatments have been received. Unfortunately, by the time most patients consider alternative treatments, they have already undergone other treatments.

The consensus of practitioners of X is that X works. Well that’s comforting. The notion that “alternative” treatments are almost 100% effective for cancer is a great example of telling a lie so great that people will tend to believe it – because no one could be that bold and outrageous a liar. No evidence, of course, is presented to back up this absurd claim. But further, this claim directly contradicts their disclaimer – essentially they are saying that you need to consult an alternative practitioner before you subject yourself to standard (i.e. evidence-based) treatment. This is also another attempt at preemptively blaming the patient for treatment failures. If your goal were to kill and harm as many cancer sufferers as possible, you could give no more effective advice than what is found in this book.

The book itself, while selling itself as a source of “natural cancer cures that work” – is really a collection of cancer cures that do not work. The term “natural” is there purely for marketing, as the book contains disproved and implausible treatments of every type, to the point that the vague concept of “natural” loses all meaning.

You can go to just about any page on the book and find gems like this one, under the entry for colloidal silver:

“Naturopathic Medicine regards Cancer as a viral and fungal [candida septicemia] process. Microorganisms depend on a specific enzyme to breathe. Colloidal Silver is a
catalyst that disables these enzymes, and as a result they die. To this day, there has been no recorded case of adverse effects from it when it is properly prepared. There also has been no recorded case of drug interaction with any other medication. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics which destroy beneficial enzymes, Colloidal Silver leaves the tissue-cell enzymes intact.”

I like that – “Naturopathic Medicine regards.”  What does that mean, exactly – that they just made it up?  It’s a clever way to make a claim without making a claim – no appeal to scientific evidence, plausibility, or basic science. Naturopaths just choose to believe that cancer is really a viral or fungal infection – despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that cancer is a category of disease caused by various mutations that cause cells to grow unrestrained by the usual mechanisms that limit cell growth. Some viral infections may increase the risk of developing certain cancers (like HPV and cervical cancer), but the cancer itself is not an infection. So of course, treating it like an infection is useless.

Further, colloidal silver is not a safe or effective treatment for infections. Silver can be used as a bacteriostatic compound to prevent contamination of equipment, but it is not safe and effective when used internally. It is also highly misleading to say that there are no recorded adverse effects “when it is properly prepared.” This is a lie – there are numerous case reports of argyria, a permanent skin disease resulting from use of colloidal silver. Developing argyria also has nothing to do with how the colloidal silver is prepared – it is a matter of dose. But what they are trying to do is dismiss adverse effects as being due to improper use. This is like saying that there are no adverse effects to any surgical procedure properly performed, because all adverse effects from surgery were due to improper technique. It’s a semantic game meant to mislead.

Finally the quote takes a swipe at standard antibiotics (again betraying the lie that the authors do not intend to discourage standard therapy). Antibiotics are designed to affect bacterial enzymes, proteins, or structures without affecting Eukaryotic cells – they do not disrupt “beneficial enzymes”.

We could spend a year and write an encyclopedia examining every claim collected in the book, but let me just give one more example. I literally flipped to a random page and found:

In Japan, Dr. Hasumi claims outstanding success in curing cancer with a vaccine made from the patient’s own urine; however, it works only if the immune system is still
sufficiently strong.

Here we see the common strategy of preparing an excuse for failure – if the treatment does not work, it is the patient’s fault because their immune system was not strong enough. Dr. Hasumi’s treatment is over 50 years old. He is a typical guru running his own clinic, claiming that science is behind his genius. The book also offers this quote from Dr. Hasumi’s website:

“To date, more than 130,000 people have been treated with the Hasumi Vaccine and today approximately 16,000 people in Japan and 6,000 people overseas are continuing treatment with the vaccine. The therapeutic advantage of the Hasumi Vaccine has been demonstrated to prevent recurrence after cancer surgery.”

What does that mean? Did the other 108,000 patients die? Are the 22,000 people still being treated cured or improved in any way by the treatment? Those figures are entirely unhelpful, except, perhaps to potential investors. The book provides only one reference to back up the claim that the treatment prevents recurrence – Hasumi’s website from which the claim was taken, and which itself contains no reference.

Hasumi has only two publications, in 2003 and 2008. The first one is simply an examination of T-cell function, and has nothing to do with any intervention. The second only demonstrates that T-cell activity is increased in response to “anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 coated beads.” Essentially, if you stimulate the immune system, the immune system is stimulated. This is typical quack cancer pseudoscience – trump up some sciencey sounding results by looking at some marker of immune function, which always seem to be elevated in response to any intervention. These results say absolutely nothing about the plausibility of the Hasumi vaccine and of course they do not provide any clinical data to show that the vaccine is safe and effective for anything. These types of studies are for marketing – to provide a patina of science to bamboozle the innocent and desperate.


The people at Natural Health International who published this e-book have, at least, provided a resource by putting just about every form of cancer quackery in one place. They just need to change the title of their book to “Dangerous Cancer Quackery to Avoid.”

Posted by Steven Novella

Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also contributes every Sunday to The Rogues Gallery, the official blog of the SGU.