MEDIA ENDS 1995 CANCER
COVERAGE WITH A WIMPER
From The Cancer Chronicles #30
© Dec. 1995 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
On December 30, America's newspaper of record, the New York Times wrapped up its 1995 coverage of cancer with a six-column wide story about a new technique for treating lymphoma (NHL). The technique involves incubating cancer cells with what are called dendritic cells.
"The new, highly experimental technique is a different form of immunotherapy that researchers are trying to develop against several kinds of cancer," Dr. Lawrence Altman, a Times science writer, explained.
It is a well-written story about interesting research. Yet I find something disturbing about the drift of this article. For it is exactly the kind of excited story of a big breakthrough that leads nowhere. Week by week, month by month, the reading public has its hopes raised (and, of course, its donations extracted) because of some promising finding that is forgotten by this time next year.
I think of all the people who are currently battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, desperately seeking practical alternatives, especially non-toxic ones (as this seems to be). After learning about the alleged wonders of the Stanford treatment, deep in the story you learn some disturbing details. For instance, it takes scientists a full six months just to produce the proteins used in treatment. So far, only four patients have been tested.
And furthermore, "because the therapy must be tailored to each patient, widespread testing to evaluate the effectiveness of the new therapy is impractical." Read this carefully: testing is impractical! That means that no ordinary patients will be given this treatment, even on a compassionate basis. Patients are left high and dry.
This reminds me of what happened earlier this year when the Journal of the NCI announced that modified citrus pectin (MCP) could block the development of metastases in animals with prostate cancer (see p. 7). There were a flood of inquiries, but some of the researchers involved refused to give callers the slightest idea of how they could possibly get MCP.
They acted as if that was the least of their concerns. Then, towards the end of 1995 they announced their own financial deal with a Delaware chemical firm, Hercules, Inc. in which that giant firm retained the right to market the final product. But what about the tens of thousands of prostate cancer patients who need such a product now? The government seems not to care about them.
I think the Stanford researchers will similarly be deluged with phone calls, faxes and letters. Yet, judging by Dr. Altman's article, the vast majority of people seeking this treatment are destined to go away disappointed.
Do you see anything weird or immoral in this situation? I do! I think when a person is dying of cancer (and many NHL patients are) they should be offered promising experimental treatments on a compassionate basis. Before extensive testing. Before mass marketing. And certainly before final FDA approval.
Such tests can take decades. Or they may never take place at all. Where are tests of Coley¹s toxins, which have been known for over one hundred years to be effective for some tumors? Over 540,000 people will die of cancer in the US this year. Patients have nothing to lose by taking promising non-toxic treatments. Some might benefit greatly.
It also galls me that there are experimental immune treatments, already available, that are studiously ignored by the Times. This fact certainly breeds a feeling of resentment, when the "newspaper of record" refuses to record the most beneficial results in cancer.
I'm not even talking about the ACS-condemned "questionable" treatments, such as the Immuno-Augmentative Therapy (IAT). The Times has assiduously avoided any mention of this for nearly 20 years. The one article on Dr. Burzynski¹s indictment in the Times remained unsigned.
But, we might ask our Times colleagues, what about the work of Dr. Georg Springer, M.D., a distinguished professor at Finch University Medical School in North Chicago, IL, who has been working on a vaccine for breast cancer for decades. This work has been on the cover of Life magazine. Certainly, Dr. Springer is no quack. He does not even profit from his treatment. In fact, that may be the problem. He has never even charged for the treatment, but has generously financed the development of his vaccine out of his own pocket.
Dr. Springer has treated more patients, with more success, than have the Stanford researchers. As I reported in these pages last year, his success rate for early stage breast cancer is 100 percent. Yes, 100 percent. Wouldn't that warrant a story one of these days? He is also flooded with calls, but though an older man working in a small lab, he does his courageous best to treat as many women as he can.
Why is it that the writers at the Times, who have more influence than any other group of science journalists in the country, never see fit to sympathetically investigate the work of independent cancer scientists, like Dr. Springer or Duncan McCollester, M.D., Ph.D., of Westchester County, another immunological pioneer.
Innovative cancer immunotherapy is not the exclusive preserve of academic institutions. Many independents have made major findings. Also, even in the big academic centers, the people who have made the lasting contributions have often been the "mavericks" shunned, denied and eventually forced out by their more conventional colleagues.
The Times writers, whatever their other attributes, generally ignore
the contributions of maverick researchers such as Georg Springer and Duncan
McCollester--and we could name hundreds of others! They are always playing
up the achievements of academics with drug company contracts in their
pockets, yet over and over again these achievements turn out to be hollow,
half-baked or impractical. Those who have made lasting contributions to
the war on cancer are generally deemed "unfit to print."
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