Joe Schwarcz: The Cancer Conspiracy Unveiled
So wrote Roman physician Galen two thousand years ago, speculating on why, some 600 years earlier, Hippocrates had used the Greek word “carcinos” for crab to describe abnormal growths on the body. Our word “cancer” is the Latin translation of “carcinos.”
Although doctors long ago learned to recognize this fearsome disease, they didn’t have much to offer in terms of treatment. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. Over the years, physicians tried everything from pulverized crab ointments to cauterizing cancerous lesions with red hot metal. Some even resorted to “sympathetic magic,” believing that placing a live crab on a tumour would allow the disease to be transferred to the animal. Such methods had about as much chance of success as the various cancer “cures” that populate the web today.
Being in the science-communication business requires currency with both the scientific and pseudo-scientific gusts of information that blow through the Internet. That’s why I subscribe to a large number of newsfeeds, including ones with seductive titles such as Cancer Defeated, Underground Health Reporter, Step Outside the Box, Natural Cures Not Medicine, Nutrition and Healing, The Alternative Daily, Expression of Truth and Reality Health Check. Although these newsletters have various agendas, they do have a common theme: there is a conspiracy between “Big Pharma” and mainstream medicine to hide effective “natural” cancer cures from the public. Regulatory agencies are also seen as part of the conspiracy, accused of being in the pocket of multinational corporations that are out to destroy people’s health.
Luckily, we are told, there are “maverick scientists” out there who “swim bravely against the tide.” There is talk of “insider secrets that stop cancer in its tracks” and promises of “exposure of mainstream medicine’s deadliest conspiracies.” Of course “you can’t hear about these secrets from your doctor, but you shouldn’t blame him because his hands are tied, and he could even lose his licence for recommending safe, natural alternatives to toxic cancer drugs.” Hogwash!
Often the newsletters feature a video that we are urged to view quickly because “it might not be available for long since powerful interests are hell bent on minimizing the damage it is doing to corporate medicine’s profit machine.” Gee, aren’t we fortunate to have all these daring doctors and scientists who are willing to reveal their scintillating, cutting-edge, dazzling research as they “battle vested interests” in the name of truth?
Make no mistake about it, all these champions of “alternative” treatments have their own vested interest. There is always a book to buy, a “health letter” to subscribe to or a product to purchase. Often the hook is a video that describes some gallant researcher whose natural cure for cancer was laughed at, but which according to the testimonials provided “produces such spectacular results that the only side effect is chronic good health.”
There are all sorts of allusions to wondrous treatment, but the actual “cure” is not revealed, at least not until you sign up for a subscription. Well, I’ve signed up for a good number and I have learned, for example, how “one courageous M.D. who spent his career proving that nobody does it better than Mother Nature” will reveal, for a price, a cancer treatment that has a “100% success rate backed by 80,000 cases.”
What is it? Turns out to be eggplant extract! I don’t know where all those successful cases are, but they certainly are not recorded in the medical literature. There are a couple of reports of an eggplant extract having some efficacy on basal cell skin cancer in a few patients. Hardly a magnificent “cancer cure!”
Another of my newsletters offers to stop cancer in its tracks with the “Fruit of the Angels.” It turns out to be papaya. As is usually the case, there is a seed of scientific fact that the author nurtures into an orchard of folly. Some papaya extracts have been shown to slow the multiplication of cancer cells in laboratory cultures, which is really a ho-hum observation. Numerous substances do this with little clinical relevance.
Yet another of my sources claims that the “King of Plants,” so dubbed by the Chinese, is the answer to cancer. The king happens to be the chaga mushroom. There are references to antioxidant properties, as well as to Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitzyn’s classic book The Cancer Ward, in which a character cures himself of cancer with the mushroom. The Soviets apparently embraced the treatment but somehow managed to keep this crowning achievement from the West. Sure.
“These people don’t get cancer until they move away from their native land and change their diet,” squeals yet another newsletter. It goes on to say that “a century ago a British doctor stumbled across an isolated tribe in India where cancer was unknown.” I had to purchase the book that was being promoted to find out that their secret was a diet high in apricot pits! Reminiscent of Laetrile, a totally debunked cancer treatment that the book promotes with religious fervour.
And how about “thunder god vine,” “the true cancer killer that stunned scientists by wiping out cancer in 40 days” according to yet another bulletin. Well, not quite. Researchers actually found some efficacy with a synthetic analog of triptolide, a compound found in the vine. In mice! The author of this epic goes on to take issue with researchers trying to create a pharmaceutical drug that can be patented, and counsels people to just get their hands on natural thunder god vine. Nonsense. Doesn’t work. That’s why the synthetic analog was tried.
Why, though, go to all this trouble? Why not just drink lemon juice, which according to a widely circulating email miraculously kills cancer cells and is 10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy? Scientifically bankrupt slop.
But you can take this to the bank: there is no conspiracy to keep cancer cures from the public. If you do want to look for a conspiracy, take a look at those who are trying to make a buck from promoting the notion that such a conspiracy exists.