The war on alternative, natural cancer treaments


Since 1971, when President Nixon's official "War on Cancer" was declared, the U.S. has spent over $1.5 trillion on conventional cancer research and treatment.

Unfortunately, as medical journal articles have confirmed, the outlook for most people diagnosed with cancer today, with some exceptions, is not much better than it was a generation ago.

Increasingly, hope in the fight against cancer is coming from complementary alternative medicine. Cancer patients' interest in alternative therapies these days is at an all-time high, with almost 50 percent of patients using one or more alternatives. And finally there is serious interest on the part of the conventional medical community.

Remembering the pioneers

As new doors open, it is important not to overlook the original pioneers of alternative cancer therapies -- a relatively small group of far-sighted and high-spirited individuals who faced great adversity and overcame daunting odds to make significant, and even landmark, contributions.

By the middle of the 20th century, medical treatments in the U.S. were limited to options like drugs, surgery, antibiotics, and radiation. Most practitioners of natural medicine, including homeopaths and naturopaths, had been driven underground -- or out of practice. During that dark period for medical freedom, the alternative cancer therapy pioneers largely kept hope alive for all of natural medicine in the form of traditionally based, natural, and holistic cancer treatments.

Many of the alternative cancer pioneers worked in the field of clinical nutrition. Although the subject of diet and cancer was widely researched by mainstream medicine during the 1930s and '40s, the discoveries were not applied to patients.

Max Gerson, M.D.

One clinician who did believe in using diet to treat cancer was Max Gerson, M.D. A refugee from Nazi Germany, Gerson settled in New York City in the mid-1930s. He experimented with an innovative nutritional regimen to treat people seriously ill with cancer and other degenerative diseases.

Gerson pioneered a low-fat, fiber-rich, largely vegetarian diet, supplemented with massive amounts of micronutrients (contained in a dozen glasses per day of freshly prepared organic vegetable juices). He also reinforced the need to detoxify the body, and introduced the use of coffee enemas to cleanse the liver.
The next generation

Gerson's death in 1959 might have closed the book on his promising work, but many of his contributions were adapted and employed by a new generation of alternative cancer specialists, including...

William Donald Kelley, D.D.S.

Kelley, who was active from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, emphasized metabolic individuality, or metabolic typing.

His theory held that no single therapy, diet, or supplement -- no matter how good -- is perfect for everyone, because each person's biochemistry is totally unique and different.

In order to assess a person's individual "metabolic type," Kelley devised elaborate questionnaires and tests, and was an early adopter of sophisticated computer technology to evaluate the results. Kelley identified enzymes as critically important and did research on the influence of genetics on the autonomic nervous system.
The goal of Kelley's therapy, which included a specific diet, nutritional supplements, and detoxification, was to achieve an ideal metabolic balance that would enable the body to heal itself. Like Gerson's, much of Kelley's work has been adapted by alternative cancer clinicians today.

'Buzzword' of the 70s: Laetrile therapy

Twenty years ago, the main "buzzword" in the field of alternative cancer therapy was laetrile. Although dismissed by the medical Establishment, laetrile represented the tip of the iceberg of a revolution in both the clinical practice and the politics of alternative cancer medicine.

Sometimes called amygdalin or vitamin B-17, laetrile is a nutritional substance derived from certain plants and seeds. In the 1950s, it was used by itself to treat people with cancer. By the 1970s, laetrile therapy had expanded to include diet, detoxification, digestive enzymes, and other supplements -- as well as group support therapy and attention to a patient's spiritual needs.

The emergence of this holistic, "metabolic" approach to treatment had tremendous ramifications for alternative medicine as a whole.

Meanwhile, the banning of laetrile helped to inspire a high-profile grassroots movement for freedom of healthcare choice that had profound and lasting effects on national medical policy and the public's expectations of medical freedom in a democratic society.

Ernesto Contreras, M.D.

One of the principal proponents of laetrile is Ernesto Contreras, M.D.

Throughout the 1970s, Contreras was the reassuring human face the North American media put on the scores of alternative cancer clinics that had sprung up in Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of American citizens with cancer have traveled to Contreras and the other popular Tijuana cancer clinics for treatments that are not legally available at home. Contreras has reported, always conservatively, positive results in the thousands of patients he has treated.
In addition to laetrile and nutritional therapies, Contreras recommends spiritual counseling. He is an ordained Methodist minister and built a church close to his clinic where many of his patients, whatever their religious background, attend Sunday services. Today, Oasis of Hope, an expansive clinical facility based on Contreras' work, is directed by his son, Francisco Contreras, MD. (Web site:

Linus Pauling, Ph.D.

A giant on the short list of 20th-century pioneers is Linus Pauling, Ph.D. In 1970, after he had won two unshared Nobel prizes in other fields, Pauling returned to one of his early interests -innovative medicine. He was intrigued by the use of vitamin C against the common cold and cancer. Pauling collaborated with Scottish physician Ewan Cameron, M.D., to explore many aspects of nutrition research.

The two co-wrote the influential book, Cancer and Vitamin C in 1978 and a number of scientific journal articles. Pauling insisted that a cancer patient who consumes large doses of vitamin C lives up to 20 times longer than a patient who does not take vitamin C.

Pauling's reputation as a world-class scientist, matched with his unceasing energy and consummate communication skills, made him and his unorthodox medical opinions difficult to dismiss. Furthermore. his avuncular, down-to-earth personality resonated with the American public
The unprecedented popularity of vitamin C today is a testament to Pauling's success at establishing nutrition and vitamin supplements --particularly vitamin C and other antioxidants -as essential, common-sense components of a healthy lifestyle.

Shortly before he died in 1994 at age 93, Pauling told me that the inspiration for modern medicine's turn toward more holistic options was coming "from the bottom up -- from the people -- not from the top down."
His words seem even more prescient today, in light of the increasing integration of alternative medicine into the mainstream, largely as a result of the public's interest.

Today, The Linus Pauling Institute is located at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore.

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