Last year Dr. Werner Bezwoda of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg admitted that he falsified data in a study that showed bone-marrow transplantation and high-dose chemotherapy could prolong the lives of some women with breast cancer that spread to their lymph nodes. His admission and retraction of results came after a team of American scientists completed a comprehensive audit at his laboratory.
In April 2001, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the official journal of the American Society of Clinical oncology (ASCO) officially retracted a second study by Bezwoda which had been published in the journal in 1995. Bezwoda had reported a significant survival advantage for women with metastatic breast cancer who took high-dose chemotherapy rather than standard therapy. But an audit by Raymond B. Weiss, MD, an independent consultant in oncology and a clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University, uncovered substantial evidence falsified data and other scientific misconduct.
Neither ASCO nor the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) recommend high-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplants for women with breast cancer who are not participating in randomized clinical trials. In its May 2001 Position Statement, NBCC described high-dose chemotherapy (HDC) as "high-risk and life-threatening."
According to NBCC approximately 30,000 breast cancer patients worldwide and 16,000 in the U.S. received the dangerous, unproven treatment during the past two decades. NBCC noted that based on limited studies:
Many oncologists began to strongly recommend HDC to patients with metastatic breast cancer outside of clinical trials. Faced with the choice between standard chemotherapy and a new, allegedly promising therapy, many terminally ill breast cancer patients opted to try HDC. Eventually, women with non-metastatic, but very high-risk early breast cancer were encouraged to get the treatment as well. At $80,000 to $200,000 per treatment, hospitals, oncologists, and even private corporations brought in huge revenues from HDC. For years, many women were told that it was their only hope for survival, although no one really knew if the treatment worked better-or worse-than standard treatment.
The Bush Administration has cancelled an $860,000 New Age "Creative Wellness" program for tenants in public housing centers in 26 cities. The program used "wellness trainers" who practiced "applied kinesiology" in order to identify which "gods" and "goddesses" tenants represent and to identify their weakest and strongest glands. Michelle Lusson, who gained the HUD contract from former Secretary Andrew Cuomo, taught tenants which scents to sniffs and which to avoid, which colors to wear and which to avoid, and which gemstones to carry-all in order to create wellness. Dr. Marilyn Gaston, a former assistant Surgeon General who served as an aide to former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, had authorized $70,000 in seed money for the program. [New York Post, 5/31/01, p. 4; New York Post, 6/1/01, p. 12, 22.]
BIOPULSE INT'L AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE MAGAZINE SUED
In a lawsuit against publicly traded BioPulse International, former client Paul Burns -- a chiropractor -- alleges that the San Ysidro, California-based company fraudulently persuaded him to pay the company $27,500 to provide at its Tijuana clinic an unproven insulin coma therapy to his mother, a terminally ill cancer patient. Burns alleges that the company misrepresented the success rate of the treatment.
Baja California health authorities ordered the Tijuana clinic to cease offering its "alternative" therapies on February 15th.
In lawsuits against Alternative Medicine magazine and its publisher, Burton Goldberg, Burns alleges that the magazine knowingly endorsed and published BioPulse International's false claims of success. The magazine had published favorable reports about the insulin coma therapy and ran full-page advertisements paid for by the company. According to one Alternative Medicine article, every treated patient "had their tumors substantially reduced or completely eliminated." Burns alleges that one patient whose success story was prominently featured in the article died of cancer shortly after the article was published.
BioPulse International's advertising practices are under investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Ten of 14 former BioPulse patients and family members of patients interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune for a report on March 31st expressed anger about the company's claims of success and the lack of results they achieved following treatment. Two of the other interviewed patients praised the company. The Union-Tribune had obtained their phone numbers from BioPulse. Loran Swensen, the company's president told the newspaper that the company had received only one complaint. [Crabtree P. Ex-client sues BioPulse over care claims. San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/16/01. Crabtree P, Dibble S. Too good to be true? San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/31/01.]
Rosemary Altea, author of You Own the Power stated on the June
5, 2001 Larry King Live show:
I'm able to contact the spirit world. I can see, hear, sense, feel in every way, communicate with the spirit world. I'm also a spiritual healler and I run a healing organization in the U.K. I'm a teacher. I teach people to develop their own abilities to get in touch with their own soul, their own sensitivity, and to develop that. I am many faceted
In response to a questions from King, she stated "I do see the future. I do" and "And know absolutely that-that you know, so much of our lives are predetermined."
Conjurer and skeptic James "the Amazing" Randi was on the program to respond. Randi is the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) which offers more than a $1 million to anyone who can prove in a controlled setting that they have a paranormal, supernatural, or occult power. "Psychic" Sylvia Browne said she would accept the JREF challenge during her appearance on Larry King Live on March 6, 2001. JREF's Web page is counting the days that have elapsed without JREF hearing from her. No one has yet to pass even the preliminary challenge. Randi noted Browne's failure to follow-up. He invited Altea to take the $1 million challenge. The first step would involve agreeing to test conditions and what would constitute evidence of abilities. Randi would not say what level of success would constitute evidence of abilities without involving a statistician in the negotiation. Altea neither accepted nor rejected the $1 million challenge.
Randi suggested Altea's methods are not different from "cold readers" who probe, make suggestions, throw out ideas, and ask questions that make them appear psychic. During the program Altea did three readings for callers. Randi explained how she applied "cold reading" techniques during the readings.
He said that 13% of the guesses of famed "psychics" John Edward and James Van Praagh are right. People note the hits more than the misses because they want to believe. Altea agreed that people want to believe she has psychic abilities. After more description by Randi of cold reading, Altea admitted that she is a liar, a cheat, a charlatan; then she said that "absolutely" she was none of these.
Joining Sylvia Browne on the March 6th program were John Edward, Von Praagh, a former FBI hostage negotiator who would use psychics in investigations (after "exhausting psychological profiling") despite not having found them useful in the past, and a retired military physicist who says evidence supports psychics having special abilities. Skeptics who appeared on the program were Paul Kurtz who chairs the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and science writer Leon Jaroff. Popular author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach also expressed skepticism on the program about mediums speaking to the dead.
Writing in the May/June 2001 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP public relations director Kevin Christopher called the March 6th program "one of the most balanced nationally televised forums for skeptics to debate psychics in recent years."
Transcripts of programs of Larry King Live are available at http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/lkl.html.
Eric Pearl, a Cleveland Chiropractic College graduate, bills himself as an internationally recognized healer. The author of the newly released The Reconnection: Heal Others, Heal Yourself, Pearl claims that after two visits with a "Jewish Gypsy" on Venice Beach he returned to his chiropractic practice with the ability to heal peopl "SIMPLY BY HOLDING HIS HANDS NEAR THEM." He claims to be able to help people with a wide variety of serious diseases. His Web site features Kirlian photographs of his hands showing more glow "in healing mode" than "prior to healing mode." (Kirlian photographs reflect well-understood physical properties, not paranormal events.) Pearl has been on a multi-city promotional tour. In March his followers paid $250 for "three days of healing and enlightenment" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. He also charges for private sessions.
In an April Fool's Day article "Prophet or Profiteer?" The New York Times (p. NJ3) quoted him: "My philosophy is that when I die and face God/love/universe, whatever and look back at my life, I would rather say that I made a fool out of myself trying to enlighten people and heal rather than done nothing out of fear."
Preditors and Editors, an Internet pollster, nominated "'Junk Nursing Science'" by antiquackery activists Jack Raso of the American Council on Science and Health and Rebecca Long, president of the Georgia Council Against Health Fraud for the year 2000's best nonfiction article on the Web. The article, which placed fourth, was later published in a special double issue of Priorities for Health magazine [12(4)/13(1):33-36, 62; 2000/2001] focusing on "Sorting Out Junk Science."
According to Raso and Long, " The prestigious nursing department at New York University (NYU) started inspiring students toward pseudoscience in 1975. Such graduates became key in metamorphosing the American nursing academe into what it is-a stronghold of junk science."
The US Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to immediately discontinue use of botanicals and other dietary supplements that may contain aristolochic acid and to contact their health care providers. Aristolochic acid has been linked to cases of serious kidney damage and cancer in Europe. Consumers should suspect the presence of aristolochic acid when product labels indicate "Aristolochia," "Bragantia," or "Asarum." FDA has identified 18 products containing aristolochic acid. Companies that have recalled products containing the dangerous substance include Vital Nutrients, BMK International, and East Earth Herbal Products. For more information visit the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Web page on aristolochic acid at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Edms/ds-bot.html.
T-Factor Immune System Optimizer tablets, which were promoted by Claremore, Oklahoma-based Ives Health Naturalpath Health Solutions as "an AIDS treatment breakthrough" and "a patent-pending hormonal inhibitor for patients infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, and hepatitis" is no longer listed among the products on the company's Web site.
Company founder and president, Keith Ives was arrested on April 4th on a federal securities fraud charge related to the company's claims for the product. He was also charged with criminal violations of FDA regulations. T-Factor was never approved as a drug.
Robert Badeen, the company's former vice-president for research,
said after he left the company that Ives Health misrepresented
his research on the product, which was made from
"I was horrifed," he told Bloomberg News. "There's no way you can make these claims. If people quit taking their [conventional] medication, this could kill people."
The company's Web site claimed that benefits of the tablets included increased T-cell count, decreased viral load, can be taken in conjunction with other medications, nil side effect profile, and decreases opportunistic illnesses and infections due to improved immune system function.
The company continues to promote dubious homeopathic medicines, weight management products, and natural remedies. [Evans D. Ives Health president arrested on securities fraud. Bloomberg, 4/5/01.]
"Little is known about the long-term safety of [sports supplements] in adults, and even less about their effect on youngsters," warns Consumer Reports in its June 2001 issue.
Androstenedione, the supplement Mark McGwire took on the way to hitting 70 home runs in 1998 flunked the two most rigorous studies of its efficacy in building muscle and strength. Both studies showed it produced increased levels of the female hormone estrogen and unwelcome changes in blood cholesterol.
Supplemental use of creatine, an amino acid, has been shown in a few well-designed studies to enhance performance requiring brief, intense bursts of strength. But muscle cramping and exacerbation of existing kidney problems among creatine users have appeared in the medical literature.
Ephedra (ma huang) is an herbal product containing several stimulants including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Almost all ephedra products contain at least one other stimulant such as caffeine from the herb guarana. Ephedra has been shown to produce heart palpitations at levels that produce moderate weight loss.
Of 140 adverse event reports to the FDA related to ephedra alkaloids from June 1997 to March 1999, 87 of the events were "definitiely," "probably," or "possibly" caused by the ephedra. Ten of the these 87 events resulted in death and 13 produced permanent disability. [New England J Medicine 343:1833-1838, 2001.]
Following a National Enquirer report that Suzanne Somers had liposuction to improve her figure, Somers, the infomercial promoter of Thighmaster exercise equipment, made a March 28th appearance on Larry King Live on CNN. She announced that she was in the clinic "all because she had breast cancer."
She never actually stated on the program what specifically her visit to the Lasky Clinic for liposuction had to do with breast cancer. She did not correct King when he said to her that she had a new book coming out (Suzanne Somers' Eat, Cheat, and Melt the Fat Away with a first printing of 350,000) and "you wanted to look your best. So you went to this clinic for lipo. The fat was removed, and you were suctioned from your abdomen, upper back, and hips."
Somers gave an evasive response when King asked, "But you didn't have liposuction taken out of your thighs as reported here or did you?" She gave additional evasive responses when he asked her questions to determine specifically which parts of her body she had liposuctioned.
Her description of her surgery to remove her breast tumor suggests that she had a lumpectomy. She also said she had radiation treatment, but that she turned down chemotherapy even though she said, "I know that it helps." She also turned down tamoxifen.
She said that she began taking daily injections of Iscador after reading about it in Burton Goldberg's cancer handbook. She said "I'm not telling anyone else to do this, but" she learned from the handbook that "with Iscador, you have a 98 percent chance that this won't reoccur, but there are no side effects with Iscador."
Iscador is an extract of mistletoe that comes in many forms, which, according to the 1990 U.S. Office of Technology (OTA) report Unconventional Cancer Treatments, are distinguished by the type of tree on which the mistletoe grew and the type of metal added to it. Women get different forms of Iscador than do men. The OTA report says Iscador with silver is used in the treatment of breast cancer. Mercury and copper, for example, are added to other preparations of Iscador.
Some forms of Iscador are likely to be safer than others. Extremely diluted homeopathic preparations, if carefully prepared, would be indistinguishable from distilled water. Some media reports have described Suzanne's Iscador as "homeopathic," but the reports may not be reliable since some people use homeopathic to refer to any "natural" treatment and not just to those prepared through rituals involving successive dilutions. Some homeopathic remedies may contain enough of the supposedly active ingredients to pose risks.
At least 26 different adverse effects and serious complications, including death, following mistletoe therapy have been reported. Reports have also suggested mistletoe interacts with antihypertensive drugs, cardiac drugs, central nervous system depressants, and immunosuppressants. The Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative concluded that "the evidence of clinical benefit from human studies remains weak and inconclusive." [Source: Ernst E. Mistletoe for cancer? European J Cancer 37:9-11, 2001.]
Iscador was proposed for the treatment of cancer in 1920 by Rudolf Steiner, a Swiss mystic who founded the Society for Cancer Research to promote mistletoe extracts and occult practices he called anthroposophical medicine.
Somers returned to Larry King Live on April 24th. She said her lymph nodes had been found clear of cancer. She said that if more cancer is found she would take chemotherapy as recommended by her doctors. Her primary oncologist, Melvin J. Silverstein, director of the breast program at the University of Southern California's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital told People magazine (April 30th issue): "Right now, she has a very good chance of being cured forever. She is cancer-free."
Somers explained her liposuction to Larry King: "There was swelling from the radiation and they removed fluids that wouldn't go away. That's all it is." People reported: "she insists that lipo was performed to even out swelling from radiation treatments."
But liposuction is a procedure for fat removal, not removal of fluid causing swelling. Somers told King repeatedly that she had liposuction, but she didn't say from where in her body fat was removed or whether fat was removed.
Somers expressed her belief that Iscador treatment builds up the immune system. She even said, "I think my immune system is being so boosted that my hair and nails are growing like crazy."
It's no surprise that Somers would find a dubious cancer treatment like Iscador attractive. She has a track record of promoting nonsense. For example, she said that her new book "is about the fact, with medical studies backing it up now, that fat is your friend, sugar is the enemy. Fat does not manufacture cholesterol. It's the excess sugar in your system that the liver manufactures into cholesterol."
Her previous popular books, Suzanne Somers' Eat Great Lose Weight and Suzanne Somers' Get Skinny on Fabulous Food, promote an irrationally rigid diet that restricts how foods can be combined in meals. Suzanne calls it Somersizing. She recommends excluding from one's diet such foods as carrots, bananas, pumpkin, corn, sugars, nuts, caffeinated teas, and wine. She calls them "Funky Foods."
Instead of calling foods funky, she would do well to call Iscador a funky cancer treatment. People might believe her. The jacket to Suzanne's new book reads: "Suzanne Somers is one of the most respected and trusted brand names in the world."
Transcripts of programs of Larry King Live are available at http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/lkl.html.