There is no miracle cure for cancer


48 Responses to “There is no miracle cure for cancer”

  1. ymendel says:

    How Science Reporting Works:

    (Even covered right here on BoingBoing when the comic came out:

  2. matz says:

    I think that specifically targeted transgenic viruses as vectors for cancer cells recovery by infection will some day cure any cancer. Using nature (with a bit of transgenic help made in a lab) to fix cancer cells is way better than using drugs. Cancer is about genetic and epigenetic mess in somatic cells.
    Also directing your immune system against tumors is a way to reach unseen goals. It is what happens all the time in your body – but sometimes it does not work. So if you get the immune system back on track of who is bad in your cell comunity you are potentially cured.

  3. abulafia says:

    Sorry to hear that Enormo, my father is currently undergoing chemotherapy and has to put up with ‘helpful’ friends & family foisting similar bullshit upon him. Luckily, he’s a critical thinker, and raised me as one also. So much so that my little sister and myself did science degrees. Great tools for spotting BS in general. I’ve made a few observations over the years since I graduated:

    1, If it’s reported in a newspaper, on the TV, or ‘teh interwebs’, but not in a journal, it’s probably wrong.

    2, If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. (See 1)

    3, If it’s endorsed by a celebrity, it’s probably BS.

    4, If it’s featured on Oprah, it’s definitely BS, or Deepak Chopra (See Tim Minchin’s STORM for more on this)

    5, If it involves praying, it’s BS.

    6, To paraphrase Patrick Swayze’s response to ‘Alternative Health nut-jobs, “If you had a cure, and it worked, you’d be very rich and very famous, you’re not, it’s bullshit, stop writing to me.”

    Apart from those items above, I work for a charity that grants wishes to terminally ill children, during the last 9 years I’ve seen the numbers of fatal cases (mostly leukaemias) drop by an astonishing degree. The same is probably true of adult cancers. Take heart, science is winning. Tiny steps.

    If you need good info about what is and isn’t medicine, go to Orac, he rocks.

  4. Gulliver says:

    Oh good, more fodder for Coast to Coast.

  5. Kieran O'Neill says:

    I actually did some work on the Wikipedia article some months ago, after seeing in an email from the library at the cancer research/treatment centre I’m at mentioning that DCA was one of their most-searched terms.

    Anyway, reasons you may not want to jump in and try DCA are:

    1. It’s neurotoxic
    2. In high doses, it’s actually carcinogenic
    3. In at least one study, it enhanced tumour growth rather than inhibiting it.

    I mean, the science is promising. It’s quite well known that tumour cells have things going on in terms of not using their mitochondria, but you just don’t know until more research has been done.

  6. slamorte says:

    Great timing! I just debunked this on a friend’s FB wall and I look forward to exploring the links you’ve found in detail. For science!

  7. robmx says:

    Derek Miller died of colon cancer a short while ago. He was followed in his blog my many people. I found the blog recently, just after he died, and read the whole thing from the time he was diagnosed till his last post.

    Derek was diagnosed in October of 2006 and lived an astounding 4.5 years which is at the high end of survival meaning he was in the 7% who live that long with Metastatic Colon Cancer.

    Why so interested? Because my last name is Miller, because we both have two daughters, both spent a life interested in photography, his mother’s name is one letter removed from my wife’s and because I was also diagnosed with Metastatic Colon Cancer in October 2006.

    Like Derek I also discovered DCA, Sodium Dichloroacetate, in February of 2006.

    Here is where we differ. Both Derek and his wife are Biology majors. I on the other hand never had a course in Biology.

    Derek discarded DCA as another miracle drug with no definitive testing that would be embraced by desperate cancer patients with little left to loose.

    In my ignorance I didn’t. I didn’t have much faith in DCA but I didn’t dismiss it. I called and emailed lots of people and one sent me a sample of DCA free of charge.

    For two years I had no chemo and the DCA stayed in the fridge. Then large aggressive tumors were found in my Hylar region and in my right lung. My oncologist and primary doctor told me statistics said I had six months to a year to live if I still did no chemo and another year maybe if I did.

    I asked for a second opinion and did dental work to prepare for chemo while waiting for that second opinion from a top two cancer hospital. I asked my primary doctor if I should try this DCA while waiting and he told me “Don’t touch the stuff”.

    The next day I did.

    Two months later I told him I had used the stuff, DCA, and asked for a CT scan of my chest to see if it was working which he agreed to.

    A few days later he called to inform me that “I don’t know what to say Bob, your tumor has shrunk by 30%. Naturally I kept taking DCA and when my second opinion appointment arrived and I had a second CT scan my new oncologist told me “this if very surprising your tumor has shrunk a further 25%.

    DCA did not shrink my tumors anymore but for the next 14 + months it kept them stable, no growth.

    All through this I was in excellent health with no symptoms and it was only because DCA caused peripheral neuropathy that I cut my dosage in half and only took it half as often in the three months leading up to my CT scan last November and my small tumor in a lung grew a little bit though the radiologist still classed me as stable and my oncologist suggested this was the time to stop DCA and go on chemo.

    For five months my tumors grew while I looked for a clinical trial but I was disqualified from some and rejected others and have now been on first line chemo for six weeks.

    I am alive and in good health, still no symptoms of cancer, and I and a lot of doctors, researchers and oncologist will agree with me that it was DCA that gave me life and quality of life for almost two years.

    DCA in conjunction with other chemos, targeted drugs or something that will counter peripheral neuropathy could well figure in a cure for many cancers.

    A recent study of 5FU, a drug I am taking at this minute from a force fed bottle on my hip, and DCA showed in petrie dishes that DCA kills X amount of colon cancer cells and 5FU kills X amount of colon cancer cells and together they kill a 4X amount colon cancer cells.

    And DCA works on stem like colon cancer cells not just fast dividing cancer cells like standard first line chemo. DCA also works on a metabolic pathway that is common to all or almost all types of cancer cells. And DCA is a small molecule that can past the blood brain barrier.

    I am not the only one that has had a good experience with DCA. Medicor of Toronto Canada has treated a lot of cancer patients with DCA and is about to produce a paper claiming that they have CURED three Stage IV cancer patients with no hope of cure with standard chemo using “palliative chemo” and DCA. And there are others, check out

  8. Miss Cellania says:

    A half-dozen people sent me this story, so I took a look. The links were dodgy and confusing, so I forgot it. Then I saw it linked at several places. I think Hubpages has a enthusiastic PR department.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Disgusting actions by people to make a buck.

    Of course, the psychic from the Dr. Oz show would have probably told us as much.

    I think that’s more of the point to the story. Everyone had such high hopes for the internet, that it wouldn’t be another way to scam people and debase our collective knowledge. Then this crap comes along.

  10. Pres says:

    “Protip: If the author of a story on a random website doesn’t tell you their real name then that should be the first clue to be skeptical of what they have to say.”

    You mean for example when an author calls himself “Orac”? ;-)

    Just kidding. Great article. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous says:

    oh robmx, the problem is that you don’t know whether DCA did anything or not.

    my wife has a rare, generally untreatable, aggressive cancer (a sarcoma). it’s not usually treated with chemo until late, late stages, because no chemo is known to cure it. none. ever.

    she had a sluggish tumor that hung around barely growing, for 3 years. her docs pointed out, correctly, that if we had given her chemo, we would have thought it was working – but her tumors just weren’t growing that much. and chemo had nothing to do with it.

    now she’s on chemo.

    it can’t be emphasized enough how research works.

    first you give people a proposed treatment – but generally only when they’ve got no other choices. because it would be unethical and monstrous to use them as guinea pigs and kill them with something really dangerous if they otherwise might live. these are often small groups of people and any apparent benefits might be a statistical accident – but at least you know you’re not killing people by trying this.

    now if a treatment doesn’t appear to make people die faster, you can go on to giving it to a wider group. then you can really tell if it shows promise. so it’s very likely effective for *some* people if it passes this stage.

    finally, you can give it to people who have multiple options and evaluate if it’s safe, effective, and good enough to use as a general treatment option, and under what conditions.

    but without going through these steps, you’re just grasping at straws. straws that may kill you, or make you die sooner, or just make you miserable with no real benefit.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Back in Jan 2007 when the Cancer Cell journal article came out my dear friend and sister in law was dying of breast cancer. DCA is the most hope I have had for efficacious cancer treatment since forever, thus I have been following Dr Evangelos Michelakis at the University of Alberta and his work since then. The thing that is holding up the DCA research more than anything is lack of money. It is expensive to hold clinical trials… in the many millions. Add to that the fact that drug companies will not do nor fund the research because the drug has been on the market for over 40 years treating kids with mitochondrial disease, and therefore cannot be proprietary to them. There is no money in it, and they are a business. So donations from people like you or me is what is funding the clinical trials. The website has the latest info and will accept donations. All Blessings, Maggie

  13. Xander says:

    Actual link from LIVE SCIENTIST dot com

    I could recount the entire article explaining quite clearly why the release of DCA is not happening from pharmaceuticals, but that would appear conspiratorial by you and yours.

    The summary , for those who care though is, it cost about 500 million to test a drug for approval by the FDA. When DCA is already so cheap, no pharma company would make their money back, thus, they pass on getting it tested. This is being classed as one of the first drug tests ever paid for by random people on the internet and donations to get the approval (over $1.5 million now), meanwhile a single doctor in Canada is quietly helping cancer victims on his own while trying to put together a full test release.

    Its quite sad actually, there are many suffering and many who would gladly test things like this but are not even given the opportunity to do so thanks to fear articles like this one. They come to websites like this one, where they are out and out told that either adding DCA to their current meds will help or that it has been known to cure many forms of cancer, BUT, its all a scam so avoid it… that makes no sense at all. If its non harmful and has been proven to work numerous times, then let people try it on their own and make a blog of that. Not once does the author say that she is testing it and she admits numerous times that she doesn’t even know what she’s talking about, yet because of one article (that states that it works… by the way…) she still assumes that it doesn’t.

    I repeat: This is the most nonsensical article I have seen in a long time.

    Oh, and P.S. thanks for offering many of the other alternatives as well, oh wait, you didn’t do that either…

    This entire article can be summed quite sadly as;
    “Just give up, any medication that the scientific community comes up with is a scam, so just give up.”

    what a load of …. NEVER GIVE UP FIGHTING!

    • Anonymous says:

      This assumption that there is no money to be made off of DCA if it actually cured cancer is at the heart of the conspiracy theories and absolutely false. Just go to your local drugstore, billions are made off of aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen; all dirt cheap generics for the same conditions. Furthermore, there is no reason why a company can’t get exclusive rights to DCA for between 3-7 years if they simply paid for the clinical trials. This is done under the Unapproved Drugs Initiative, which allows the FDA to do exactly that. Colchicine is just one example: But hey, conspiracy theories make so much fun.

      • Snig says:

        To anon @37:
        Takes about a billion to bring drugs to market. US patent is 20 years, normally. The 3-7 years is a consolation prize, but they have to have a real winner before they can devote what they need to get it through all hurdles. Colchicine has a longer track record than DCA, and cancer studies are particularly expensive. Cochicine, with patent is selling for “only” $5 a pill, which is crazy cheap for a cancer drug. That’s good in my mind, bad in the mind of the company selling it.

  14. millrick says:

    that first link?
    they got the science wrong in the fourth paragraph.

    • Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

      I almost thought about not linking to the myth-mongering story at all. But I ended up deciding that it was important for people to know where this was coming from. (Protip: If the author of a story on a random website doesn’t tell you their real name then that should be the first clue to be skeptical of what they have to say.)

      And Enormo: I am so, so sorry to hear about your wife. And even more sorry that there are so many frauds and (let’s just say it) ginormous douchebags out there who are adding to the stress and fear you and she must feel. It’s fucking terrible, and you have every right to be furious.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Yay! Debunking stuff is so fun!

  16. Enormo says:

    These stories are complete mindfucks for so many cancer patients and caregivers out there. Watching my wife cry because of the fear, angst, and guilt that we’re not doing all we can to keep her alive gets me so very angry. And the quacks that profit by perpetuating the myth that we actually have the ability to cure cancer but it’s being suppressed by some vast global conspiricy of doctors… oh… i’m shaking I’m so mad right now.

  17. Xander says:

    pps frgt,

    nvrsty f lbrt, Dprtmnt f Mdcn pdtd fw dys g…

    Dn’t gt pst bcs ts nt n “mrcn” cr (r ssstnt fr ts dms)

    Blw t t yr … blggr. f y cn’t b rl jrnlst r rl dctr, nd y dn’t knw wht yr tlkng bt bt wnt t jst blthr t th mth, bcm blggr.

    BTW, vry scntst fght Pstr s wll, bt w knw hw tht trnd t. r d y?…


  18. daen says:

    I work for a thyroid cancer diagnostic company, and one of the things that amazes me is the number of different types of cancer that can affect just the thyroid. We have determined a gene expression profile for many of them, which we analyze using custom Affymetrix chips. For most of them, it’s almost possible to figure out which type it is from looking at the scanned chip images, because the gene expression profiles are so varied.

    That such a diverse disease could be cured with a single simple compound would be — almost — laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that people like Enormo and his wife have their hopes raised and then dashed by cynical charlatans who perpetuate the cancer conspiracy myth for their own personal gain.

  19. Chang says:

    I am proud of the fact that I helped promote this! All by clicking a link! :)

  20. donovanbeeson says:

    I work for a doctor who is convinced that MRIs were created to kill cancer but the FDA or whoever won’t let them. He’ll spout off all this crazy stuff if you ask him about it; so I don’t, but this part of the problem. The man is a doctor and yet he believes this sort of stuff.

  21. Mister44 says:

    I have keen interest in tumor fighting. One of my legs is ravaged by neurofibromitosis. Personally, I dream for the day that nanobots can just go in and cut stuff out cell by cell; even let me control one like a FPS.

    • Enormo says:

      I dream for the day that nanobots can just go in and cut stuff out cell by cell; even let me control one like a FPS.

      Sold! That would take care of both my wife’s cancer and my propensity to waste large ammounts of time playing videogames.

    • JonStewartMill says:

      I dream for the day that nanobots can just go in and cut stuff out cell by cell; even let me control one like a FPS.

      This made me think of a SF story by Norman Spinrad, “Carcinoma Angels”.

    • dculberson says:

      “even let me control one like a FPS”

      Hey, that’s a cool idea! Imagine, after work, sit down to a fun game of nanobot cell hunting.

    • 10brooks says:

      My mom was dying of cancer at the same time I was heavily into Doom on my Sega Genesis. I remember imagining that I was traveling through her body wiping out cancer cells with my shotgun.

      • Mister44 says:

        IIRC – there have been documented cases of people visualizing destroying their tumors, and they end up going away. Mind over matter? Paladin heal thyself? Lucky coincidence? Miracle? Dunno. Or I could just be remembering an urban legend.

  22. dr_w says:

    Thank you for the detailed (and accurate) information.

    It would seem that we can generalize that any widely (or is that wildly!) circulated item, be it a chain letter or an internet viral email is certain to contain false information.

    The great oil shale miracle that will give us billions of barrel of oil has come and gone again as I patiently try to explain to friends and others that this is well known – just impractical.

  23. Anonymous says:

    “the drug has been on the market for over 40 years treating kids with mitochondrial disease”

    If that is the case surely tracking above patients to see if any of them developed cancer, would show the efficacy of the drug!

  24. Monomythical says:

    This is the original article from which all later articles came from. It was in New Scientist in 2007.

  25. Snig says:

    The wiki is what I sent a friend who asked about it, and it’s pretty straightforward:

    It’s interesting that the scientists involved in the studies (not the MD’s running the clinic) used online donations to raise 800k to fund the small phase II trial.

    • Jorpho says:

      But that’s the thing: the interesting part of the “conspiracy”, and the part that’s not addressed in the above post. Why did a trial have to be funded via online donations? Is DCA not receiving the same amount of attention as it otherwise would if there were massive profits to be had from its use?

      • Snig says:

        It’s not really a conspiracy, it’s just the way the system currently functions. DCA is absolutely not receiving the same amount of attention as it otherwise would if there were massive profits to be had from its use, true. The scientist who is running the study is also hoping to patent it and make back his investment and likely become fabulously wealthy. I don’t begrudge him, or any other drug researcher, it’s hard work, very complex science, very complex red tape, crazy hours, and only pays off if you win the research/regulatory lottery and your drug happens to be the right one. Most people work very hard and don’t become fabulously wealthy. My brother was one of them.

        If it were up to me, the NIH and similar bodies in other countries would be funded sufficiently to carry out the studies they need, with the medicine having no patent. Meds would be cheaper, and we could focus on things that are most needed by patients (new generations of antibiotics, cheaper meds) vs. things that satisfy the needs of pharm industry (slight variations of drugs, such as time release, that then are awarded a patent, and drugs that treat chronic diseases, insuring chronic costumers). I don’t think pharm companies are evil, I just think they’re companies, and companies that do best and become biggest are the ones that make the most money.

        If oatmeal and the small cardiovascular benefits were discovered today, it would be sold (as avena sativa, the new noni-juice) in health food stores for 10-100 times the cost. A pharm company would find a specific variant that they were allowed to patent, and sell it for 1000 times the cost. In the pharm companies defence, they would put a billion dollars into research for it, but only for their variant, they would be careful not to validate natural oatmeal. I would like an independent body to instead invest the billion in research in natural oatmeal.

        Then again, I believe in universal health care for Americans, so I’m clearly living in a fantasy world.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I love a good pharma conspiracy.
    For example, you know ulcers? Ulcer drugs were big blockbuster drugs. Every pharmaceutical had one or more in their top-10 selling drugs. Thanks to Warren and Marshall, who got a Nobel for their efforts, it turns out that ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori, and are most effectively treated by fairly common off-patent anitbiotics.

    OK, so now the conspiracy. You have multiple pharmas running many clinical trials on ulcer drugs, and tracking what happens to the patients. Because the real cure (antibiotics) is commonly prescribed, you would expect that a non-trivial percentage of their subjects would be miraculously cured, even if they were in the control group and didn’t even take the drug being studied. In every trial, the correlation between antibiotics and ulcer cure would be far stronger than between the drug being studied and an ulcer cure. Obviously people enrolled in a drug trial would have all of their medications tracked. Were all people taking antibiotics systematically excluded from all the trials? Its expensive to exclude people once the trial starts, and antibiotics are famously over-prescribed, so there would have to be a lot of exclusions. What are the chances that all these pharmas looking at all these trials failed to find the link between antibiotics and disappearance of ulcers? Could have happened, I guess. I’m just proposing a conspiracy theory here, so its not like I have to have evidence for anything. Just a thought experiment.

    It took Warren and Marshall about a decade to convince the medical establishment of the relevance of their scientific findings, which were scientifically speaking an open and shut case (Koch’s postulates are not to be trifled with!). Oddly, medically speaking, the case was not so open and shut.

    There’s a lot of talk these days of “science-based Medicine” and “evidence-based Medicine”. In contrast, you hardly ever hear of “science-based Physics”. There’s a good reason for that.

    The point is that by and large Medical conspiracy theories are pure bunk. Except when they’re not. Medicine does have some ways to go yet before it fully emerges from its pseudo-science past. The fact that drug development happens (or not) purely from a profit-motive perspective doesn’t help either.

    • Anonymous says:

      In contrast, you hardly ever hear of “science-based Physics”. There’s a good reason for that.

      Because physics is a type of science? A better example might be science-based engineering, but in truth, very few people try other types except on the smallest scale. On the other hand, typing “science-based” into google does bring up things like parenting and dog-training…I don’t know if there are conspiracies there or not.

    • Snig says:

      to anon#25

      The flaw in your argument is:
      If researchers that worked for a drug company saw that antibiotics cured ulcers, they would then think:
      “Huh, curing is a lot better than relieving discomfort…, why don’t we try our company’s antibiotic, or have our company acquire a small antibiotic company, or why don’t I go to work for an antibiotic company, and then I can a Nobel, money for nothing and my chicks for free…”

      Yes, I know the h. pylori guys went against accepted dogma, and they are heroes. But once they proved it, they did get the Nobel, so no hard feelings from the med community.

      Yes, if you’re sick enough to need antibiotics you tend to get excluded by studies, this would be true of almost all medical research studies.

  27. James says:

    I had to debunk the first article linked above last week for some Facebook friends. Here’s what I posted:

    “Two comments: (1) The article you link to is written by a scientific illiterate, and (2) if you go to you can read about the clinical trials that are ongoing, conducted by the group that first identified this drug’s effect. Clinical trials of a drug can take anywhere from 5 to 15 years, and in this case the drug takes up to 3 months to reach effective levels in the bloodstream, so it’s likely to be at the longer end of that scale. [Name Redacted], thanks for sharing this info but remember that MOST science reporting in mainstream journalism is inadequate if not outright mistaken.”

    I feel like this advice about trusting mainstream science journalists could also apply to the BoingBoing article re: natural selection.

    Finally, my credentials are that I am a biochemist working in basic research in a field tangentially related to cancer research.

  28. Keneke says:

    In the first further reading article, it says that DCA is no quack cure. We know, more or less, what it does and how it does it. It is difficult to answer these urgent questions with neither a yes or no, but rather an involved addressing of the nature of the situation.

    That being said, there is a distinct difference between a dying cancer patient who has exhausted all other avenues, and a cancer patient who might forgo proven methods for this easier, cheaper option. The former is pitiably sympathetic. The latter is dangerous.

    Therefore, someone dispensing DCA has to be careful, more careful than he could possibly manage in reality. A dealer of DCA could go from saint to devil from patient to patient, through little to no fault of his own.

    There’s no clear line, but blanket approval or blanket denial is not the answer.

  29. Anonymous says:

    This article claims that of the 5 patients used during the Phase I testing one of the 5 patients died. IF one of the 5 died, it was unrelated to the trial — the article here is intentionally misleading.

    “In the 5 patients tested, the drug took 3 months to reach blood levels high enough to alter the tumor’s metabolism. At those levels, there were no significant adverse effects. However, at some of the higher doses tested, DCA caused nerve malfunction, i.e. numbing of toes and fingers. Importantly, in some patients there was also evidence for clinical benefit, with the tumors either regressing in size or not growing further during the 18 month study.” — Taken from

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