Yet another misleading alt-med cancer testimonial

They call them Necromancers.

Necromancers have an uncanny ability to resurrect an old thread by commenting on it months, even years, after the last comment. Unfortunately, as hard as it is to believe, the version of Movable Type used by Seed to power our blogs does not have a preference panel that allows us to turn off our comments on posts after a set amount of time, for instance three months. Consequently, every so often I”m plagued with Necromancers bringing long deceased comment threads back from the dead to the annoyance of all. Of course, the most annoying Necromancers are the one who resurrect threads over a year old. It really makes me wonder how someone can be so clueless as not to notice that the post he’s about to comment on is over a year old and that the most recent comment is also a year old.

Be that as it may, sometimes a Necromancer can not only cause me some amusement but provide a ready topic to blog about. So it was that this happened just yesterday, when someone named Chris popped up in a post from late last year about Kim Tinkham, the unfortunate woman who died of breast cancer, having relied on a quack named Robert O. Young to treat her breast cancer. She paid the price. While it’s true that a post that’s only around four months old might be stretching the limits of the definition of Necromancer when a commenter revives the comment thread following it, I think it’s appropriate enough in this case. Chris was none too pleased with the topic of my post:

Just another guy who beat Stage 3 Colon Cancer without chemo or radiation crashing this party!

There is no magic potion.

I did every alternative therapy I could find and my body healed itself.
One thing I know for certain. This “brain free zombie” is ALIVE!
7 years and counting.

Life’s too short to argue with trolls.

I’m only interested in helping people who want it.

Elsewhere, Chris writes:

In 2003 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer. There was a golf ball sized tumor in my large intestine and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. It was two weeks before Christmas and I was 26 years old.

My doctor told me I was “insane” but I decided against chemotherapy after surgery.

I radically changed my diet and did every alternative holistic therapy I could find.

Within one year of my diagnosis I was cancer free.

Here we go again.

To your credit, you my readers immediately recognized this as a testimonial of the sort that I first wrote about over six years ago and have been writing about periodically ever since as they pop up. Chris was even kind enough to link me to his website and blog Chris Beat Cancer: A Chemo-free Survivor’s Health Blog. Also to your credit, you my readers immediately knew the reason why this testimonial wasn’t particularly convincing. Different cancer, same reason. Still, I do think it’s worthwhile every so often to dissect a testimonial such as Chris’ because they are so common and every time I see one I still see permutations that I haven’t seen before. Let’s see if we can see that with Chris:

Hi!

My name is Chris Wark.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer in 2003, at 26 years old.
I had surgery and instead of chemo,

I radically changed my diet and did every alternative therapy I could find.
By the grace of God, I’m still alive and kicking, and cancer free!!!

People are always asking me what I did. So I started this blog to share my discoveries about health and what I did to beat cancer without chemo.

One thing I’ve noticed right about these testimonials is that the people promoting them often take on what is best described as an evangelical fervor. It’s as though it’s a religious experience more than anything else. Indeed, you can see this even in the snippet of Chris’ testimonial that I posted above. Chris has not only converted to “alternative” medicine, but he’s now on a mission to persuade you that it’s the best thing for cancer. There’s just one problem.

Colon cancer is not treated primarily with chemotherapy.

Many solid tumors, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer, are treated primarily with surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy might play a role, but the main curative modality is surgery. Indeed, for breast and colon cancer, before around 50 years ago surgery was pretty much it. The multimodality therapy that we surgeons and oncologists have come to know and love is a relatively recent development that didn’t really come into common use until the 1960s and 1970s. Before that, if you were going to be cured of your breast cancer or colorectal cancer, you were going to be cured by surgery, which sounds as though that’s exactly what almost certainly happened to Chris. Surgery cured him.

Let’s take a look at his story in a little more detail. First, Chris has a post entitled Why I didn’t do chemo. In it, he describes chemotherapy as “poison,” which is true but misleading in that it is designed to be more toxic to rapidly dividing tumor cells than it is to normal cells. It’s all typical anti-chemotherapy misinformation, and then he pulls out one of the most deceptive bits of anti-chemotherapy propaganda of all, the infamous “2% gambit”:

An investigation by the Department of Radiation Oncology, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Australia, into the contribution of chemotherapy to 5-year survival in 22 major adult malignancies, showed startling results: The overall contribution of curative and adjuvant cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was estimated to be 2.3% in Australia and 2.1% in the USA.” [Royal North Shore Hospital Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2005 Jun;17(4):294.]

The research covered data from the Cancer Registry in Australia and the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results in the USA for the year 1998. The current 5-year relative adult survival rate for cancer in Australia is over 60%, and no less than that in the USA. By comparison, a mere 2.3% contribution of chemotherapy to cancer survival does not justify the massive expense involved and the tremendous suffering patients experience because of severe, toxic side effects resulting from this treatment. With a meager success rate of 2.3%, selling chemotherapy as a medical treatment (instead of a scam), is one of the greatest fraudulent acts ever committed. The average chemotherapy earns the medical establishment a whopping $300,000 to $1,000,000 each year, and has so far earned those who promote this pseudo-medication (poison) over 1 trillion dollars. It’s no surprise that the medical establishment tries to keep this scam alive for as long as possible.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s this study. I’ve discussed it in detail before at least twice. Basically, it’s a study custom designed to produce a number as low as possible for the estimated survival benefit due to chemotherapy. It omitted leukemias, which are cured primarily by chemotherapy and ignored T-cell lymphomas and highly curable Burkitt’s lymphoma. The study’s authors neglect to mention the survival benefit achievable with high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem-cell transplantation to treat newly-diagnosed multiple myeloma. It underestimates the benefit of chemotherapy in some malignancies.

Let’s take a look at the survival benefit that Chris might have experienced if he had agreed to undergo chemotherapy. I’ll use my favorite online tool for this purpose, Adjuvant! Online and look at several different scenarios. I do this because all I have to go on is what Chris says about his cancer, and that is that it was stage III upon diagnosis. However, there’s stage IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC in colon cancer. Let’s start with the lower end of stage III, stage IIIA. In this case, the five year survival benefit due to 5-FU-based chemotherapy is in the range of 5%; in other words, with treatment after surgery, a patient’s estimated five year survival rate will climb from around 87% to 92%. Not bad, but not spectacular. (Note that newer FOLFOX-based therapies do somewhat better in producing a survival benefit.) However, if you look at it as decreasing your chance of dying from 13% or so to 8%, that’s more than a 30% decrease.

Now let’s look at a case where chemotherapy would have a more impressive effect, a stage IIIC tumor. In this case, we’ll choose a tumor that has grown completely through the wall of the colon and started to invade adjacent tissues (T4) with a large number of positive lymph nodes. Here are what the improvements in survival attributable to chemotherapy. First, here’s “old-fashioned” 5-FU-based chemotherapy (click picture to enlarge):

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And here’s the same graph using more modern FOLFOX chemotherapy (click picture to enlarge):

i-326c429be3c74e4201f2142f4452ac7c-stageiiifolfox1-thumb-450x376-63638.jpg

That’s a 19-25% increased chance of surviving five years, 19% for 5-FU and 25% for FOLFOX. Note that, whatever chemotherapy is used, a patient’s odds of surviving five years go from less than 1 in 3 to better than 1 in 2. These are real numbers based on real clinical trials, and it bears repeating that the reason Chris is alive today is because of two things: the skill of whatever surgeon operated on him to remove his tumor and luck. By refusing chemotherapy, he reduced his chances of beating his cancer, but was lucky enough to survive anyway. Moreover, since recurrences after five years are uncommon in colon cancer, now that Chris has made it seven years, more than likely he’s home free, at least from this cancer. Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t get another or that he’ll be as lucky next time. After all, he was only 23 years old when he developed colon cancer, which makes me very suspicious for a genetic predisposition such as HNPCC and that he very well might be at risk for developing another colon cancer or other cancer.

Looking at Chris’ anecdote, his odds were quoted as being a 60% five year survival. It’s not clear whether that is with or without chemotherapy, but it is clear that, at stage III, Chris would have benefitted markedly from chemotherapy. That he was lucky enough to win his gamble doesn’t mean that he was any less reckless to have taken such a huge risk, especially at such a young age with so much more life in front of him to throw away if he lost his gamble. But take it he did, and fortunately for him his luck was good.

Unfortunately, instead of having maximized his chances of survival and attributing it to science-based medicine, Chris has decided to embrace all manner of quack remedies. For instance, he thinks that juicing until his skin turned orange and a raw vegan diet, meanwhile embracing detox and acid-base quackery. (In case you don’t remember, Robert O. Young is one of the foremost purveyors of the latter form of woo, including in cancer.) Moreover, I can provide another, less happy testimonial about a man who decided to treat his colorectal cancer with juicing and various other woo. His story didn’t turn out so happy.

Meanwhile, Chris lays down napalm-grade burning stupid with these alt-med cliches:

If you have cancer, your doctor is not allowed to prescribe any treatment other than surgery, chemo, or radiation; or they can lose their license.

Unlike other countries, American doctors cannot prescribe changes to lifestyle, diet, or increased exercise to treat illness. They can only recommend them along with conventional FDA approved therapies like the ones listed above.

Which is silly. Doctors prescribe dietary changes all the time to treat type II diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and a number of other conditions. Ditto exercise. They do it because these therapies are validated by science. Using diet to treat cancer, not so much. In fact, not much at all. True, there is evidence that certain diets can reduce one’s risk of cancer, but once the cancer has developed , the horse is out of the barn, so to speak.

However, if you want to have a true idea of just what Chris is about, for all his self-righteousness and rants about chemotherapy, greedy pharmaceutical companies, and the joys of curing cancer by juicing, there’s really only one thing you need to see in Chris’s blog:

I am not a doctor. I’m just a guy who beat cancer without chemotherapy.

All information presented on this website is drawn from my experience and research, unless noted.

This information is for education purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice.

I must issue the disclaimer that I’m not making an attempt to prescribe any medical treatment — and the information contained on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a doctor or qualified health practitioner.

My statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and the information on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Yes, it’s a quack Miranda warning.