Friday, April 18, 2008

Alternative Cancer Options a Risky Venture

This is another article I wrote for the school paper. This one didn't get published. It's a big topic, and I bit off a lot for one small article, so I would've liked to elaborate some more, but I still stand by it.

Practitioners of non-Western medicine only have one disease that they avoid like the plague. And it’s not the plague - they will treat that. Just don’t ask them to touch cancer.

It’s not for fear of the pandemic disease; quite the contrary. Holistic medicine offers an array of treatment options for cancer patients. The fear of cancer lies in the legal gamble of treating a disease that lawmakers have implicitly reserved for conventional therapy.

According to California Health and Safety Code Section 109300-109395, physicians may not “engage in the diagnosis, treatment, alleviation, or cure of cancer” using modalities other than chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. To do so may be considered a felony offense, which can result in fines, lose of license, and in extreme cases, incarceration. Most other states have similar restrictions, but often violation penalties are less severe.

Actual results with cancer are seemingly irrelevant as illustrated in the 1995 case of oncologists Dr. Glenn Warner, who used alternative methods to successfully treat over 1,000 cancer patients. Despite receiving hundreds of letters written on his behalf, the courts revoked his license, claiming that the patients were unqualified to make decisions concerning their health.

For many physicians and naturopathic doctors, who have the knowledge and resources to treat cancer, the legislation is more than an encumbrance. Dr. Hujio Shibata, a chiropractor who uses acupuncture, energetic medicine, nutrition, and shiatsu in his practice, has found that the law impedes his communication and effectiveness with patients.

“I have to make it very clear. I do not treat cancer. I have to say I treat the whole body, the contradictions in the body, the imbalances. It’s very nebulous. Patients want something more definitive, but you can’t give it to them with this law in place.”


Physicians are vigilantly reminded during medical school that alternative treatments are off limits for cancer; the common patient, meanwhile, generally remains unaware of these stipulations, even as it directly effects their healthcare options. The California Citizens for Health Freedom (CCFHF), a non-profit organization based in Orville, California has been working to change this; their goal is to establish and expand the legal rights of citizens to have access to safe and effective alternative medicine. The organization has backed two bills concerning the cancer issue: the first bill could potentially change the state law that limits physicians to practicing only conventional medicine; the second bill would change the law that makes it a crime for physicians to offer safe and effective alternative treatment for cancer.

In 2005 the second proposed bill passed through the CA State Senate. However, due to opposition from the medical board and political pressure that led to negative and untruthful information disseminated by the California Medical Association, the bill was defeated in the Assembly.

Executive Director of CCFHF, Frank Cuny, admits that in pursuing these changes, organizations like theirs are up against a financial Goliath. The pharmaceutical industry has a strong presence in medical policy-making.

“The drug industry is one of the largest, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world,” he says. “The bigger the state the more lobbyists these companies have. So we in California have a problem. For every legislator in congress, the drug companies have about four or five lobbyist. We, representing alternative medicine, have about three… total.”


Using President Eisenhower’s warning of a military industrial complex in the early 1960s, Cuny calls the current situation in healthcare the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex. Warnings of this developing healthcare situation, however, came as early as the 1930s, when Morris A. Bealle, an investigative journalist with the Washington Times and Herald published several works exploring the changing landscape of public health. In his book, The Drug Story, he examined the expansion and evolution of the Rockefeller Empire. From Standard Oil to the Drug Trust, the entrepreneurial strength and investment potential of the Rockefeller Foundation easily lent itself to the growing healthcare industry. Gaining favors with the Food and Drug Administration and other administrative departments and organizations, over time the Drug Trust was able to give large grants to prominent medical schools, in turn influencing the content of school curriculums. As profits grew, the empire spread its tentacles into the advertising industry, which substantially aided their sales of pharmaceuticals.

Bealle pointed out in his research that a business which makes 6% on its invested capital is considered a sound money maker. Sterling Drug, Inc., the largest holding company in the Rockefeller industry and its 68 subsidiaries, showed operating profits in 1961 at 54% profit. Squibb, another Rockefeller company, in 1945 made not 6% but 576% on the actual value of its property. Today annual pharmaceuticals sales have topped $289 billion. Not surprisingly the industry-driven treatment of cancer has favored modalities, such as chemotherapy and radiation which incidentally are projected to rake in over $27 billion in 2009. By the numbers, a cure for cancer is not cost effective for these companies and neither are effective and economical treatments.

Meanwhile, the rate of cancer continues to climb. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,437,180 new cancer cases will develop in 2008; yet the success rate for chemotherapy still hovers somewhere between 2 and 7 percent according to the National Cancer Institute.


With success rates so low, many oncologists have concluded that no treatment at all is better than these therapies. Professor Hardin Jones, formerly of the National Cancer Institute, reported in the New York Academy of Medical Sciences publication that his studies showed that untreated cancer victims lived up to four times longer than treated individuals.

“It’s pretty arrogant for the board to make a statute like this when the cure rate for these treatments is under 10%,” Dr. Shibata says.

“We are obviously losing ground with conventional cancer treatment, because the death rates keep going up,” says Dr. Joseph Mercola, a leading voice in alternative healthcare. “Conventional treatment is based on a faulty standard: That the body must be purged of cancer by aggressive and toxic methods has proven to be so wrong over the last 50 years that continuing to adhere to it constitutes more fraud than honest mistake.”

While many physicians have been expressing their concerns, not all holistic healthcare professionals are eager to upturn these health codes. Dr. Tatsumi Hirano, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and an acupuncturist, feels that more research is necessary before the door to alternative treatments can be legally opened.

“Western medicine is unparallel in its development. But the reality is that naturopathic medicine is becoming more accepted.” Dr. Hirano says, whose own research with medical doctors at UC Irvine attempts to use the framework established by western science, to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture

“Chinese medicine has already been approved to treat the side effects of cancer,” Dr. Hirano says. “With enough study, I foresee much development in this field. However, there have to be standards. I believe people have to be protected.”


Protection can be an elusive goal in a corporate system with money and potent drugs on hand. Protection implies an innocent bystander, in this case the cancer victim. In most incidences, the cancer patient is at the mercy of doctor recommendations with little active role in decision-making or the healing process. This concept of victimization and accountability has been a subtler theme for many of the proponents of natural therapy. Grab a card or a promotional calendar in Dr. Shibata’s office and you will see the slogan, “Good health is your responsibility.”

This sentiment has been shared by several of the leading voices in self-healing. Lorraine Day, an orthopedic surgeon who was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and a lumpectomy tumor, was able to completely recover by making drastic changes to her diet, eating only fresh whole foods, exercising and changing thought patterns. Best-selling author Louise Hays reports a similar case when she was diagnosed with cancer. Abstaining from conventional treatments, she instead was able to cure herself by making drastic changes in diet and lifestyle.


Katie Wernecke with her parents
The stakes are high when using alternative medicine to treat cancer: that goes for the patients, as well as, doctors. Recently attacks on alternative cancer treatments have targeted children in particular.

In 2005 Katie Wernecke, a 12-year-old girl from Texas, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and after the first round of chemotherapy went into remission. Doctors recommended further radiation treatments, but her parents, after some research, refused. When they attempted to remove the girl from the hospital, the Department of Child Protective Services issued an Amber Alert, arrested the mother and put Katie along with her siblings into foster care. Later that year, doctors declared that her cancer had returned and forced her to undergo radiation against her will, while cutting off communication with her parents. Eventually a district court judge allowed her to rejoin her family, but the damages could not be reversed.

Again in 2006, Abraham Cherrix, a 16-year-old boy from Virginia, was also given chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease. When the cancer resurfaced six months later, he refused to return for more debilitating treatment, instead opting to go on an organic diet and use herbal supplements. Department of Social Services intervened, his parents were prosecuted for neglect, and he was ordered to resume conventional treatment. Eventually, they too won in a larger court. But these cases illustrate the severity of a system brashly asserting that there is only one way to treat cancer.

Like Abraham, many cancer patients turn to alternative treatments after conventional therapy fails.

“Usually by the time an alternative health care professional sees these patients, they are weeks away from dying.” Dr. Shibata says. “They’ve gone through everything and this is like a last ditch effort.”

Dr. Shibata has had to stop seeing these patients. “I can take away the effects of chemotherapy, the nausea and the pain, but then it is difficult because patients think they are getting better,” he trails off. By this point, it is too late, but most patients don’t consider alternative methods when confronted with cancer.

The decisions that follow a diagnosis are very personal and most often life changing. In a state of shock and fear, patients cede their well-being over to the professional and the conventional treatments they offer. With fear in their voice, a patient might say, “It’s my life I don’t want to gamble.” But if administering and receiving alternative treatments for cancer are a gamble too dangerous even to be legal, one has to ask, in this game, who is cashing in the chips?