Moving on to cancer quackery…Zeolite and other oddities

Over the last few days, it seems to me, I’ve been blogging so much about antivaccine lunacy that I was beginning to wonder whether I should rename the blog “Respectfully Insolent Antivaccine Slapdowns.” As good as it’s been to dwell on seeing the antivaccine movement suffer two major setbacks in 2009 even before we’ve reached the end of February, it’s time to move on for a while; that is, unless the antivaccine movement does or writes something stupid enough to tempt my attention back. In the meantime, as I get back into the swing of blogging again, I haven’t yet gone through my pile of papers that piled up in my absence to find if there is any there that I want to do more serious pieces about. But there are more than one kind of topics other than peer-reviewed papers to blog about that are serious. In fact, some are deadly serious. Some are even related to my area of expertise and make my blood run cold because they are a direct danger to and betrayal of patients.

I’m talking cancer quackery.

The other day I was made aware of a website that promulgates some of the most common (and worst) myths about cancer, coupled with misinformation about cancer and heapin’ helpin’ of unsupportable claims. It’s a book called 11 natural therapies to conquer cancer by a man named Robert Sopias. Naturally enough for such woo, it starts out with testimonials. I’m going to pick one that’s so typical that I blogged about similar ones very early on in the history of this blog. In fact, the reason I mention it is that it’s a variation of the one I discussed, one I haven’t seen before:

Back in early March I went for what I expected to be a routine mammogram. Instead, I needed more diagnostic tests done, which showed a total of six enlarged lymph nodes – three in each breast. I didn’t have enlarged lymph nodes anywhere else….the radiologist and doctor who read the mammogram confirmed that I didn’t have breast cancer, but they were quite concerned about lymphoma…particularly primary breast lymphoma. I had a full blood workup done. It was pretty normal with the exception of an elevated lactic dehydrogenase level (which is also an early warning sign for lymphoma) I was referred to an oncology surgeon who did an ultrasound and agreed I should have two of the largest nodes in the right breast biopsied. The first appointment I could get for the biopsy was five weeks later!!!!!

Of course, I was experiencing a great deal of anxiety over the whole situation. I began to look online for information on lymphoma, protocol for treatments, etc. I knew I wanted to also consider alternative medicine options as well before agreeing to kill my immune system with traditional chemotherapy if I was indeed diagnosed with cancer. That’s when I happened to find information on Enhanced Zeolite. It sounded too good to be true, but in theory, I liked the concept of how it worked and the testimonials were impressive. I ordered both Zeolite and Oxy E…the shipment was very prompt by the way. I started 15 drops 3Xs a day of Zeolite, and 10 drops 3Xs a day of Oxy E. Within 3 days, I noticed some changes…within 10 days, I was amazed at the major changes: Improved energy!!! I was able to do heavy duty yard work 6-7 hours a day and still feel good afterwards.

[…]

Now here’s the best part…..the day after Memorial Day I was back in the surgeon’s office for the biopsy. I was on the Zeolite for a full month and was very hopeful there would be some improvement. I asked for another ultrasound to see….the surgeon was a bit patronizing explaining that it was highly unlikely….he didn’t expect to see any change. I told him about Zeolite….he’d never heard of it and apparently didn’t want to either. But low and behold, the look on his face was priceless when he did the ultrasound. Out of six nodes, he could now only find one left, and it had gone down from 1/2 inch in diameter to 4mm…which he said was a normal size and not worth biopsying…..go figure! He said the difference in the ultrasound from five weeks earlier was incredible…. My husband was there with me and he asked what the surgeon thought happened. His explanation….hayfever!

Primary breast lymphoma is a very uncommon presentation of lymphoma. In my career, I’ve only seen it once. However, notice how there was never any tissue diagnosis. In the absence of tissue diagnosis, when you hear a story like this the explanation is that it was almost certainly not cancer. Also note that she said one of the lymph nodes was 1/2 inch in diameter. That’s only 1.27 cm, which is entirely within the range of normal size for intramammary lymph nodes. If such a mass were seen on ultrasound by one of our radiologists, my guess is that, absent any gross abnormalities in structure, a biopsy wouldn’t even be recommended. Of course, we don’t know how large the other five were, but if they were in the same range as the one she lists, I’d be skeptical whether they needed any workup at all other than a followup ultrasound in a few months. Be that as it may, this sort of story is typical.

But what about all the other testimonials? They’re all run-of-the-mill and very similar to pretty much every cancer testimonial in that there is never provided a sufficient level of detail to make any determination if they might be true. In any case, whenever I see a list of testimonials like this, I ask a very simple question: Where are these people? If they really had such miraculous results from this particular remedy, then I want to study them. The reasons are two-fold. First, I want to know if it’s really true. Second, if it is true, it would be worth studying to see if such results could be obtained for all cancer patients. Of course, when you look more closely at these anecdotes, you’ll almost always find that they aren’t as they seem at face value. Also remember that they exist not to demonstrate the efficacy of any cancer cure but rather to sell a product.

Much like this book, which is designed to sell something called Zeolite. But not just any Zeolite, Robert Sopias’ Zeolite:

For example, zeolite has proven to be an amazing cancer fighter. So now there are quite a few zeolite products on the market. They all sound good. However, energetically all but one of them test in a range of 40 to 60, the higher the better. This one specially developed zeolite has an energetic healing power of 5000 when I test it, many times stronger than any of the others.

Don’t waste your money on (or trust your life to) less effective supplements.

That’s right, our magic powder is better than anyone else’s magic powder using the same name and made of the same stuff. Why? Because it has an “energetic healing power” 100 times greater than theirs!

But what is Zeolite? Apparently it’s a compound that is derived from a volcanic mineral called clinoptilolite, and it’s sold as a powder or a milky suspension, and, as above, all sorts of claims are made for it. Of course, these claims are based on false understanding of cancer. Examples are numerous on this website. It’s all there, including the characterization of cancer as being due to all sorts of unnamed “toxins” and heavy metals, among numerous other bits of woo. Some of them were somewhat plausible but exaggerated beyond any reasonable extrapolation from science, such as the “EMF’s going to give us all cancer!” gambit. My favorite, I think, has to be this:

Geopathic stress has been implicated by many alternative health practitioners in Europe as a cause of cancer. Simply put, geopathic stress is unhealthy energy coming from the earth. One cause is underground streams that creates friction that produces the wrong type of energy.

Two developers of energized products both had cancer that would not resolve until they were told to check and see if they slept over geopathic stress. They did, changed their sleeping arrangements, and then were able to get well. A study in England noted that gypsies, even though their diets and smoking habits were poor, were not near as likely to get cancer because they were always moving so were not likely to have been sleeping in an area of geopathic stress for years at a time.

Now there’s one study that I’d really like to find in the medical literature! I suspect that it would be unlikely to have actually reported what Mr. Sopias claims it reported. But, hey, I do give him props for his blaming cancer on the evil energy emanating from the earth. I wonder what determines which areas give off more of this nasty geopathic stress energy other than underground streams? I mean, am I putting myself in danger when I hang out in Detroit? Is geographic stress different for different people? For instance, would I, a University of Michigan alumnus, suffer more geographic stress in Columbus than in Ann Arbor? What about all those times I was in Newark?

But I digress.

The other thing that’s really annoying about this is the low level of understanding of the specific cancers discussed. I choose as an example what the website says about inflammatory breast cancer. For those not familiar with it, inflammatory breast cancer is a nasty form of breast cancer in which the cancer cells get into the lymph vessels under the skin of the breast. The result is a red, inflamed appearing breast, usually associated with a large mass, hence the name. Such tumors tend to metastasize to the axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) early; so lymph node metastases are almost always present, and all too often distant metastases are present, making the disease stage IV.

What Sopias gets so utterly wrong is that he divides inflammatory breast cancer into “early stage” inflammatory breast cancer and “late stage” inflammatory breast cancer. Here’s a hint. There is no such thing as “early stage inflammatory breast cancer.” There just isn’t. By definition, inflammatory breast cancer is always–always–at the very least what we refer to as “locally advanced.” It is always at the very minimum stage IIIB. Indeed, these days inflammatory breast cancer is considered inoperable because the results of surgery alone are so dismal. That’s why the recommended treatment is now chemotherapy first, surgery after the chemotherapy is completed. Of course, it’s pathetically obvious that Sopias appears to have just cut and paste a lot of the same crap about “early” and “late” cancer into all the pages on individual cancers (for instance, look at his page on melanoma), regardless of the biology of the individual tumors. That he’s just too clueless to know that there is no such thing as “early stage” inflammatory breast cancer is revealed in his using the same boilerplate gibberish to discuss inflammatory breast cancer too.

But, hey, Sopias says he can cure even inflammatory breast cancer:

1 to 2 bottles Quantum X – Energy healing is age old in many cultures from around the world and has been achieved with various modalities.
What brings about dramatic healing with all of these energy healing modalities is the transfer of subtle energy to the cells that is guided by vibration. Vibration encodes how energy is used by the cells.Quantum X satisfies the ancient model of healing based on subtle vibration and energy to discharge patterns of disease. When this takes place the cells release their toxins and establish a new pattern of repair to bring about a healthy state on every level physical, mental and emotional.

And:

1 Elixir Combo All 13 for Advanced Stage Cancer – Based on Ayurvedic Traditional Medicine, these remedies are created by imbuing artesian waters with the energies and vibrations of special healing stones, gems and precious metals, establishing an energetic, vibrational message in the water that is transferred to the bodies cells, creating harmonic resonance and deep healing.

You know, if it’s my wife, mother, or sister, I think I’ll recommend to her passing on the whole quantum energetic healing energy sending vibrational messages to the cells thing. It’s not such a good idea; that is, unless one has a death wish. Cancers don’t listen very well to those vibrational messages, I’m afraid. Chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation therapy give the best chance of survival. In fact, there are two words for a woman with inflammatory breast cancer who relies on the sort of nonsense that Sopias is pushing: “dead” or “dying.” True, lots of women die of inflammatory breast cancer in spite of undergoing chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, but that’s because it’s an unusually aggressive form of breast cancer appearing at a late stage. More importantly, a significant number of women can be rendered disease-free by the treatment and live out their normal life span. Indeed, we know what the percentage odds are of curing this form of breast cancer are, thanks to science and clinical trials. In contrast, other than dubious “testimonials,” we have no idea if any woman has ever survived inflammatory breast cancer using some of Sopias’ woo instead of real medicine. I suppose it’s possible that Sopias’s “cleansing” and “healing” may have cured some woman somewhere, but knowing the natural course of untreated inflammatory breast cancer as I do, I consider it incredibly unlikely. Certainly there is nothing on either of his websites to show hard evidence that this has ever happened.

Of course, another common aspect of cancer quackery that’s in this book is the usual conspiracy mongering. Naturally, there’s the reference to Semmelweis and how dogmatic doctors supposedly are. (It’s obligatory.) But, more importantly, The Man is trying to keep the Natural Cures from you:

There was a woman whose daughter was in the advanced stages of brain cancer. She asked her oncologist if it was okay to give her daughter a superfood called blue green algae. Her doctor told her that it was no problem, that in fact a number of his patients had used that supplement with success in fighting cancer.

Naturally she wondered why he didn’t tell her about this product a year before when they came to him.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell her about this or any “natural or alternative health therapies” and stay employed. Insurance regulations would preclude such suggestions. And he could get into administrative trouble by recommending natural, non-drug treatments for cancer.

His advice is controlled by a large medical industry that makes mega money off expensive cancer fighting drugs and treatments. An industry that doesn’t look favorably on natural supplements or other cancer treatments as they cannot patent them to make high profits.

That’s right; doctors are keeping the cure for cancer from you because it’s all a plot. Of course, the real reason doctors don’t tell patients about these things is because there’s no science showing they work. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Four years after having started blogging and nearly a decade after having dived into discussions of cancer quackery on the Internet, I still manage to be depressed when I come across such blatant cancer quackery. Indeed, you know it’s bad when Sopias even mentions Ryke Geerd Hamer and the principle of the German New Medicine that claims that cancer is not a disease, but rather a symptom of some unresolved psychic conflict. It doesn’t get much quackier than that.

Unfortunately, there is probably nothing that can be done about this books. Clever quacks realize that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech protects them as long as the author doesn’t try to treat patients. It’s the same principle that has let quackmeister Kevin Trudeau keep publishing book after book advocating quackery and, more recently, financial scams even after the FTC took action against him. It’s also the same thing that leads to the “quack Miranda warning” appearing on Sopias’ webpages:

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and information contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases or, medical problems. It is not intended to replace your doctor’s recommendations. The information is provided for educational purposes only. Nutritional benefits may vary from one person to another.

Yeah, right. I always find it amusing how quacks like Sopias can so confidently state that they can cure the most advanced cancers, ones that scientific medicine can’t cure, using nothing more than herbs, supplements, and volcanic ash, but they don’t have the strength of their convictions to eschew the quack Miranda Warning. Come on, Robert! Just come on out and say that you hope cancer patients will buy your book and use the “cures” within! You know they work, don’t you?

Well, don’t you?

Cancer is scary. There’s no getting around it. Worse, some of the therapies necessary to treat and, when we can, cure cancer are not pleasant. Surgery is not fun. Neither is chemotherapy or radiation. Naturally, it’s tempting to look for another way, particularly for patients whose cancer is advanced and for whom conventional therapy offers little hope of success. Still, if hell exists, there is a special place in it reserved for people pushing books such as this. Patients who believe it could very well pay for their mistake with their lives.