RE: Faxing the Lancet editorial. That really is not necessary
if you are on the Web. It can be reached at thelancet.com
I have attached the article in case you did not receive it by fax:
Lessons from antineoplaston
On March 4, in Houston, Texas, USA, a jury, after 7 days' deliberation, failed to reach a verdict
in the trial of Dr Stanislaw Burzynski. Burzynski was indicted on 75 counts, including criminal
contempt and fraud for allegedly violating earlier federal court orders not to treat patients with his
anticancer drug, antineoplaston, a peptide derivative. He is said to have sold some $40 million
worth of this product to 2500 patients over the past 13 years. A member of the jury was reported
as saying "if people have no alternative and they want to try an experimental treatment, they should
be able to", and called the prosecution's case, "a government witch hunt". A US journalist and
author, Kathy Acker, has described how she fell out with conventional medicine when she was
found to have lymph-node metastases after a mastectomy, "I realised that if I remained in the
hands of conventional medicine, I would soon be dead, rather than diseased, meat". She entrusted
herself instead to dieticians and therapists.
Cancer is only one of the illnesses for which people seek alternative treatments, but it has the
highest public impact: it is common and many alternative treatments do little more than delay
inevitable death from cancer, sometimes at the expense of considerable suffering. Practitioners of
complementary medicines for cancer succeed, in part, because of the failures of conventional
medicine, and often achieve cult status amongst their proponents, as happened with Dr Max
Gerson, who developed a diet to treat cancer and, according to his supporters, was hounded out
of the USA to exile in Mexico where he continued in practice.
Attitudes of conventional practitioners and health-care legislators to complementary treatments for
cancer range from wholesale denunciation to cautious tolerance, but little rapport is sought
between them. The overall picture is of two groups who ought to have the same
intention--successfully treating patients with cancer--bad-mouthing each other across a wide
divide. And in the middle of that divide are patients with cancer who want to know about available
treatments so they can make up their own minds which to choose.
The sort of advice available to patients from conventional practitioners is likely to follow the
example of the US National Cancer Institute's publications, Cancer Facts: "Many proponents of
unconventional methods of cancer treatment make claims that are not or cannot be scientifically
confirmed" and "the use of unconventional methods may result in the loss of valuable time and the
opportunity to receive potentially effective treatment". Although these statements are reasonable,
they tend to be interpreted as meaning that patients who choose unconventional treatments are
irresponsible. Complementary practitioners will be informed by a similar zeal that patients who do
not choose their pills, diets, or spiritual enhancements are in some way letting themselves down. Is
there anything that can be done to help patients make sense of all this?
Yes. First of all a truce must be called, and both sides admit the possibility that both conventional
and unconventional treatments may have a part to play in the treatment of their cancer, subject to
appropriate facts being brought to bear on the issue. Practitioners' hostilities to particular
treatments should--in the interest of their patients--be kept to themselves. For a practitioner to
refuse to accept back for treatment patients who have changed allegiance, dropped radiotherapy
in favour of faith healing or vice versa, is bad clinical practice. The last thing someone with cancer
needs is to be scorned or threatened.
Patients need information about cancer treatments, and conventional practitioners need to be
aware that it is not only unconventional cancer practitioners who can be justly charged with giving
too little, or even misleading, information to patients. In their enthusiasm to kill cancer, physicians
may not make fully apparent to their patients the consequences of, say, chemotherapy.
Cancer ends many lives slowly and distressingly. People who suffer like this deserve to have
physicians listen to their needs; and physicians need to recognise that not everything in orthodox
oncology is perfect.