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Frank Weiwel

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Frank Wiewel first came to the attention of NCAHF as the head of the IAT Patients Association (IATPA), which he operated using the address of Box 10, Otho, Iowa. "IAT" stands for "Immunoaugmentative Therapy," the name given a questionable cancer treatment advanced by zoologist Lawrence Burton, PhD. Burton, who originally operated in New York, moved his practice to the Bahamas to avoid the accountability required by United States consumer protection laws. With the help of New York Congressman Guy Molinari, IATPA was instrumental in getting the U.S. Congress's Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to investigate questionable cancer medicine [1]. Wiewel vigorously promoted IAT and portaryed it as a victim of a misguided medical/governmental cartel. However, Burton's flight from legal accountability cast grave doubts upon his veracity. IAT fell further into disrepute when samples of the substance Burton was injecting into patients blood were found to be contaminated with AIDS and hepatitis viruses. Burton's clinic became more suspect after it failed to follow through with its promise to cooperate with the OTA's evaluation of its veracity as the centerpiece of its overall assessment of "unconventional cancer therapies." Burton, who had vowed to take the secret of his cancer therapy with him to his grave, died in 1993.

NCAHF also came into contact with Mr. Wiewel when he attended a National Health Fraud Conference representing a group called People Against Cancer (PAC) which was also located at Box 10, Otho, Iowa. Whereas in the first instance, Wiewel was heavily promoting IAT, in the case of his PAC, he claimed to have "no vested interest in any therapy," "not financially affiliated with any physician or clinic," "receive no funds or referral fees from anyone treating cancer," and "do not make treatment recommendations." Wiewel claimed to "provide options," and to "educate with unbiased information toward informed choice." In reality, he consistently bashed standard cancer treatment, impugned the trustworthiness of standard cancer research and care, and extolled the value on offbeat cancer theories and procedures.

PAC's book list is a library of books by a who's who of fringe practitioners, mavericks, and outright quacks. Wiewel is totally biased against evidence-based cancer care, and in favor of a wild and woolly cancer treatment marketplace. This is done in the name of "freedom of choice." Unfortunately, Wiewel's idea of freedom of choice is one in which the cancer patient bears all of the responsibility while the promoter enjoys all of the freedom. Wiewel clearly has built his organization upon the public's paranoid idea that a grand conspiracy exists to suppress effective cancer cures, general distrust of the "establishment," and the strong desire of a segment of cancer patients to "leave no stone unturned" in their desperate search for a miracle.

In 1987, Wiewel and his IATPA supporters picketed a conference on cancer quackery held in Ft. Lauderdale sponsored by the Florida Division of the American Cancer Society. NCAHF participated in the conference. Accompanying Wiewel at that time was a young man who was represented to be living proof that IAT was effective. NCAHF later learned that the man died about two years afterward. It is not unusual for promoters of questionable cancer remedies to publicly parade individuals alleged to have been cured of cancer who later die. NCAHF asserts that it is plausible that Mr. Wiewel -- and others who have stood up for questionable cancer treatments -- is a victim of his ignorance of the biology of cancer who has become ensnared an ego-trap.

The Biology of Cancer

The American Cancer Society's"seven danger signals" indicate a need for a thorough examination -- they are not definitive. Most people experiencing the signals do not have cancer. In addition, people's symptoms may not reflect the seriousness of their cancer. The absence of overt symptoms makes it possible for people with cancer to believe that they have been cured when, in fact, the disease is still present and progressing. Normal survival variations found among cancer patients is such that in any population of patients, unusual long-term survival will occur. NCAHF has found that the most common reason given by patients who believe they have been cured by unproven cancer remedies is that they have survived longer than a physician said that they would. They apparently were not aware that survival-time forecasts are based upon group averages. Physician estimates of expected survival times are based upon the median for the particular disease and its stage. "Median" means the point at which half of individual patients will have died. Thus, half will also survive longer than the median, and some of these will survive for an extraordinary lengths of time. A professor of surgery has stated:

It might surprise many readers to learn that we are uncertain about the natural history of untreated breast cancer. I have studied and written about this subject for nearly 25 years. Anecdotally, I have about a dozen patients with well-documented case histories who have refused all active therapy and have lived in symbiosis with their tumors for up to 35 years [4].

The first half of cancer patients who die will do so within a relatively short time period compared to the group's overall length of survival. One gauge of doctor's inability to predict survival is a report that 84% of survival predictions given hospice patients were wrong, and the tendency in prognoses involving more than 3-4 months is to underestimate survival time [5]. Anyone who deals with a large number of cancer patients is bound to come in contact with a number of "unusually" long-term survivors. It is easy to understand how people can be influenced by such experiences to believe that something they are doing deserves credit for their good fortune.

Financial Gains.

Mr. Wiewel's promotion of unproven cancer medicine has brought him both income and notoriety. Wiewel rose from obscurity to a public figure of national visibility. PAC's financial report for the year ending 12/31/98 states that its gross income was $269,985 for 1998; $293,658 for 1997; $314,830 for 1996; $321,748 for 1995; and $184,065 for 1994 [6].

Wiewel pays himself a salary and finances his travels around the country and internationally as he lobbies on behalf of the promoters of unproven cancer medicine. Wiewel benefited enormously from the establishment of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and may have played a role in the strange series of events that led to its creation. Iowa Congressman Berkeley Bedell experienced prostate cancer. Although Bedell had standard therapy, like many cancer patients, he appears to have been emotionally traumatized by his disease, and the inability of honest physicians to assure him that his cancer was completely cured. In his quest for certainty, Bedell explored the world of "alternative" cancer remedies.

NCAHF has been told that Wiewel advised Bedell in this mission. Despite the fact that as a former Congressman he has access to the best cancer experts, Bedell patronized Gaston Naessens, a Canadian with a long history of promoting unproven cancer remedies. Bedell got Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to introduce a bill, which he lobbied personally, that eventually established the NIHOAM. Bedell and Wiewel eventually became members of the OAM advisory board. Wiewel has used this affiliation to give status to the unproven remedies he promotes [7,8]. Wiewel, Bedell and Ralph Moss (editor of The Cancer Chronicles, which PAC distributed during its early days), who had the ear of Senator Tom Harkin to the degree that they became known as "Harkinites," so politicized the OAM that the office's first full-time director, Joseph Jacobs, MD, resigned in frustration. The issue was whether or not the OAM would operate according to scientific standards for which NIH was known, or whether personal testimonials, anecdotal evidence, metaphysical ideologies, and subjective acclamations would be given the imprimatur of NIH.

Wiewel also rallied to the defense of Stanislaw R. Burzynski, MD, when he was charged with mail fraud; violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and contempt for failing to obey court orders against previous violations. Claims that Burzynski has been a victim of the big drug companies are refuted by the indictment which stated that from 1988 to 1994, the Burzynski Research Institute grossed $40 million and that Burzynski and his wife took in over $5 million in personal income [9]. Wiewel seem oblivious to the financial gains of the marketers "alternative" cancer methods.

References

  1. "New date set for Washington, DC rally," IAT Patients' Association, Inc. 5/30/86.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "FDA issues alert against dangerous cancer remedy," FDA Talk Paper, August 7, 1986.
  3. The Alternative Therapy Program For People With Cancer. People Against Cancer flyer, December, 1994.
  4. Baum M. "The Bristol Cancer Help Center: reflections on the controversy," Health Watch Newsletter, May 6, 1991.
  5. Gibson DE. "Hospice: mortality and economics," The Gerontologist, 1984;24:(1):4-8.
  6. Wiewel FD. Periodic report to California Attorney General, June 14, 1999.
  7. Budiansky S. "Cures or 'quackery'?" U.S. News & World Report, July 17, 1995, pp.48-51.
  8. Silber K. "Can alternative medicine find a cure for politics?" Insight, Dec 19, 1994, pp.14-16.
  9. Indictment, Umited States of America v Stanislaw R. Burzynski, M.D., Burzynski Research Institute, Criminal Number H-95-290, United States District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, Filed Nov 20, 1995.

Additional Resources

Recommended Books

Copyright Notice

©1996, National Council Against Health Fraud.
With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on December 1, 2000.