Claiming to be able to cure cancer with magic water

I’ve written about naturopathy many times before. The reasons that it interests me are several. First, it amazes me how anyone “discipline” (if you want to call it that) can encompass so many forms of quackery, some of which are mutually contradictory. (For instance, how can homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine both be true?) Also, it’s amazing how deeply steeped in prescientific vitalism naturopathy is. Then, of course, there’s its tight embrace of The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy. There are times when I feel as though it’s just too easy, as homeopathy is nothing more than water, any “remedy” that had been there having been diluted to nonexistence, but, as has been pointed out to me before, homeopathy is a highly useful tool with which to teach critical thinking skills. It’s also just such obvious quackery that it’s even sometimes rather fun to deconstruct. I won’t say I never get tired of it. I do sometimes. On the other hand, sadly homeopathy is not going anywhere, and it appears impossible to point out too much just why homeopathy is about as pure a form of quackery as there is, just as pure as pure, pure water.

Normally, homeopathy is used in a way that is probably relatively harmless, for example, to treat someone with a vague sense of unease, or a touch of the nerves, or just more money than sense (as Mitchell and Webb so famously put it in their classic parody of homeopathy). However, every so often, I come across someone who wants to use homeopathy to treat conditions that are not self-limited or just a “case of the nerves.” The results can be potentially disastrous, or, as Mitchell and Webb put it, “OK, so you kill the odd patient with cancer or heart disease or bronchitis, flu, chicken pox, or measles.” Of course, this about sums it up.

So why is the Welsh Conference of Homeopathy hosting Dr. A. U. Ramakrishnans, a man who treats cancer with homeopathy? I kid you not. Look:

Homoeopathic Case-taking with cancer. Types of Cancer & Prognosis Specifics of Treatment for the different stages of cancer Homoeopathy as a primary therapy Homoeopathy in conjunction with Western Medicine. Materia Medica of cancer. Ramakrishnan method of administering remedies.

So let’s see what Ramakrishnans (I refuse to call him “doctor”) claims he can do. To do this required just a little Googling to find his very own website, where he makes this astounding claim:

The treatment of Cancer can be quite successful with Homeopathy, often in conjunction with allopathic medicine in advanced cases. In early stages, particularly with breast and prostate, the success rate is close to 80% with compliance by the patient. Currently we have over 400 active Cancer cases and this number reflects the results we are seeing. Over the last 10 years there have been more than 3,000 Cancer cases that reflect long term follow up of those cured.

Many people first approach Dr. Ramakrishnan for treatment when the Cancer is advanced, has recurred, or they have exhausted all the conventional possibilities for treatment. These patients are offered improved quality of life and length of prognosis. Many families report the patients live quite comfortably and actively.

Our results are confirmed by conventional laboratory testing, scans and ultrasound. Throughout this treatment we ask the patient to keep scheduled visits with an oncologist to monitor the progress. All our results are verifiable in this way.

Did you notice something? As a cancer doctor specializing in breast cancer, I sure did. He said that he has 80% success with early stage breast and prostate cancer. Does anyone want to bet that nearly all of these patients come to him after having had surgery? If that’s the case (a safe bet), then it’s not at all surprising that he would observe an 80% success rate. That’s about what you’d expect with surgery alone for early stage cancers. In fact, for breast cancer, you’d probably expect better than 80% ten year survival with surgery alone. You’d expect more like 85% or even higher.

The other thing I noticed is that Ramakrishnan says that his treatment involves taking homeopathic remedies for 2.5 hours daily. Upon reading that, all I could do is wonder: What the heck is in that homeopathic remedy? Is he forcing his patients to drink gallons of water, given that homeopathy is just water? Why on earth would it take 2.5 hours? Whatever the case, Ramakrishnan claims that not only can his quackery cure cancer, but it can cure heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. Well, actually, he admits that type I diabetes “is not curable” and that patients must take insulin for the rest of their lives, but he claims that “can be helped with Homeopathy to manage their condition, including some leveling off of blood sugar swings, improved circulation and vision.” Here’s a video in which he describes his methods:

Wow. Ramakrishnan’s method sounds almost like metronomic chemotherapy. The difference, of course, is that there’s no chemotherapy. It’s just giving water at high frequency.

As is the case with just about every cancer quack there is, Ramakrishnan makes some extravagant claims. For instance, in his book, A Homeopathic Approach to Cancer, we are told:

He usually administers his treatment alongside conventional medical procedures. Yet he has also had numerous cases – for example, of patients with astrocytoma or glioma – who had relapses after two or three ineffectual operations or radiation treatments, and who were then treated solely using his methods (in some cases with over ten years of follow-up).

You know, when I see claims like this, I can’t help but think of Stanislaw Burzynski. I know, I know, I’ve already mentioned him twice this week, but I think it’s appropriate here to bring him up again. Think of it this way. A homeopath, who is treating his patients with nothing more than magic water, claims to have the occasional patient with astrocytoma or glioma, the two sorts of cancers that Burzynski claims to be able to treat more effectively than conventional medicine, who has a complete remission or long term survival. that should tell Burzynski sycophants, toadies, and lackeys, something. He does as well as quacks using nothing more than water.

One thing I did notice in Ramakrishnans’s patient anecdotes. There are no imaging studies, no pathology reports, no hard evidence to document the claims in the patient anecdotes. Perhaps the best way to see what I mean is to take this anecdote about cervical cancer from his book:

Female, 39 years, reported with a leucorrhea of many years standing, which was now accompanied by severe pulling pains all over the hypogastrium and lumbosacral region. These would come on suddenly, but decrease only gradually—and were more pronounced in the evening.

Examination showed ulcer on cervix and biopsy report confirmed squamous cell carcinoma, Stage II.

The patient was gentle, soft spoken, sensitive, affectionate; worse from rich, fatty foods; better from a breeze and gentle (rather than vigorous) exercise—in a word, a classic Pulsatilla.


Week 1: Pulsatilla 200c – daily, Plussing Method

Week 2: Carcinosin 200C – daily, Plussing Method

Weeks 3-8: Same as Weeks 1-2

Leucorrhea stopped.

Months 3-4: Same as Weeks 1-2, but in the IM potency

The ulcer was healing, with less bleeding and pain.

Months 5-6: Same as Months 3-4

Cervical lesion 90% cured.

Months 7-8: Same as Months 3-4

The patient was clear of all symptoms. AH tests and examinations showed normal.

Of course, 200C means a (102)200 = 10400 dilution. Given that there are only on the order of 1078 to 1082 atoms in the known universe, the use of such dilutions is utterly ridiculous. But what about the anecdote?

Stage II cervical cancer means that the tumor has spread beyond the cervix. It’s unclear how it was determined that this was the case, as it’s not always possible to tell this on the basis of physical examination alone. Perhaps a transvaginal ultrasound or a CT scan was done, or perhaps it was possible to tell it on colposcopy. The anecdote doesn’t say. In any case, note that the original complaint was leucorrhea, which means a white or yellowish vaginal discharge. Leucorrhea can be caused by many conditions, including puberty, infection, malignancy, and hormonal changes. Then, she had vague sensations of pelvic “pulling.” An ulcer was seen on her cervix and biopsied. We aren’t told how, although frequently cervical biopsies are done by cone biopsy technique, which can take a lot of tissue. In any case, it would be expected that a woman who’s undergone a cone biopsy would bleed for a while and that ultimately the ulcer would heal. We can’t tell from this anecdote, because it’s not described how the size of the tumor, nor are we told which specific tests showed “normal.” The whole case is vague and fishy, as is the next case, which is almost identical. In both cases the biopsy technique is not described, but I’m betting it was a generous cone biopsy that removed much of the tumor. Is it surgical? Was it a needle biopsy?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Not surprisingly, Ramakrishnan hasn’t published his results in decent peer-reviewed biomedical journals. Instead, he publishes vague patient reports in a book in such a way that they can’t be evaluated independently to see if there really is evidence for an antitumor effect. In the meantime, one can’t help but wonder whether this entire Welsh Conference of Homeopathy is massively against the law. Unlike the case in the US, in the UK, you can’t just go around saying whatever you want about cancer or advertising quack cancer cures. The Cancer Act of 1939 criminalizes such activity. Surely offering to cure cancer with magic water qualifies.