Review of Burzynski Clinic's list of "published research" turns up thin, unconvincing gruel

A followup to Monday's story about a representative from the controversial Burzynski Clinic (a cancer clinic that is presently treating a British girl whose family raised £200,000 for her care) sending threatening letters to bloggers who questioned the science behind Burzynski's therapy:

First, the Burzynski clinic says it has severed its relationship with Marc Stephens, which seems like a good idea. Sending threatening, ungrammatical, frothing emails to scientists and skeptics who raise technical questions about medical therapy makes your therapy look like woo that can only be defended with intimidation rather than science.

Second, the clinic has released a list of Burzynski's "publications" on his therapy, prompting a scientist named Jen McCreight to dig through the list and determine how compelling these publications are.

McCreight's findings aren't good. Burzynski's publications are either review papers (which add no new findings to the literature), publications in zero-impact or low-impact journals (that is, journals that aren't cited by other oncologists), publications in "alternative medicine" journals (McCreight quotes Tim Minchin: "You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine."); unreviewed talk-proposals submitted without peer review to reputable journals; or unreviewed conference proceedings.

In McCreight's check of Burzynski's list of publications, not one publication met her standard for real, peer-reviewed, published research in a reputable journal.

The Burzynski clinic is claiming that it’s libelous to say “There are no scientific studies supporting antineoplason treatment since 2006.” But it’s not libelous because it is true. Results that lack peer review cannot be said to support something. Abstracts at conferences are not peer reviewed. Review papers do not include new, peer-reviewed data. The only published paper he has itself states that it is inconclusive without a larger study to confirm the results.

Plus, they don’t even understand what the phrase “since 2006″ means. It means published starting in 2007. From that alone we throw out the first two papers. You’re left with a review paper that cites conference abstracts, and conference abstracts.

So no, Burzynski clinic. There aren’t any scientific studies supporting antineoplason treatment since 2006. But there are plenty falsifying it.

A look at the Burzynski clinic’s publications

More damning revelations about Burzynski’s “research”

Allow me to take this opportunity, once again, to remind the Burzynski clinic of Boing Boing's tradition of vigorously defending ourselves against legal threats, and the frankly titanic sums that our opponents have had to pay to our lawyers when we beat them like tin drums. And allow me to remind them that in US law, recipients of legal threats can ask courts to rule on those threats, even if the person who made the threat withdraws it or fails to bring suit, and that in those cases, courts can award costs to the victors.


  1. For those googling at home, McCreight apparently mispelled the word.  The neologism is antineoplaston, not antineoplason. 

  2. Not sure why bloggers are going after someone who says he got treatment for cancer and there seems to be people who survived because of the treatment. How about listening to the stories of the survivors or patients of Burzynski Clinic? Cancer is a trillions dollar business sadly and there are lots of investments in the current technology of cancer treatment, don’t you think that those who invested on that will want to keep their business going? by not letting other come forward with different treatment which will take all there income source? It’s similar to why there is no car which can run 200miles or even more on 1 gallon of gas? Looking at progress in technology, it should have been possible to develop that kind of efficient car but do you think Oil companies would let that happen this easily?   i read this from the patient who is a little child getting treatment from Burzynski clinic and it seems like it’s working! So before writing anything (simply by taking a blog post as a reference) , writer should have checked to see the facts.

    1. …writer should have checked to see the facts.

      The writer and you have widely diverging definitions for the word ‘fact’.

    2. “It’s similar to why there is no car which can run 200miles or even more on 1 gallon of gas?”
      The problem is not the oil companies, it’s the auto industry. What American would drive a car that gets 200 MPG, especially when they want to do 200 MPH in their 1 ton pick-up?

    3. I enjoy how you relied on anectodes and cherry-picked evidence for almost all of your reply, and then accused someone of not ‘checking the facts’. Bravo, masterful trolling :D

      Also, the Cancer conspiracy isn’t analogous to the car one, because if the car companies aren’t working hard enough on a new type of car, NOBODY DIES FROM IT. To claim that the cancer researchers around the world are conspiring to keep cancer research going requires that you IMPLICITLY decry every single one of them as people without even the barest shred of humanity.

    4. Not sure why bloggers are going after someone who says he got treatment for cancer and there seems to be people who survived because of the treatment.

      For any given medical procedure, without rigorous studies to the contrary, patients survive despite the treatment, not because of the treatment. Selling expensive snake oil to desperate people should be gone after.

      Oh, and we do not have 200 MPG cars because we do not know how to build 200 MPG cars without significant tradeoffs, and up until recently most people did not really care too much about the MPG of their cars (indeed, most people are still unwilling to make the tradeoffs).

    5. There are a large number of logical fallacies in your argument, many of which are common in alt-med support statements, and which I have de-constructed before (

      The idea that the businesses involved in cancer don’t want a cure is laughable – firstly, if this were the case, you would expect no cancers to be curable, whereas several forms of cancer now have such excellent survival rates that they are referred to as curable rather than just treatable. Secondly, you make this statement as if Burzynski is making no money from his treatment, and is therefore somehow not comparable to the “cancer industry”, and you’re just wrong. I’d like to dress that up so that it’s less harsh, but it is true, you’re quite wrong. For example, recent analysis of the accounts shows that a) donations to the clinic are made payable to Burzynski personally, and b) the clinic makes millions of dollars but somehow declares no income. Sound legit?

      Looking at progress in technology, you would assume that people would no longer believe in nonsense like homoeopathy, acupuncture, faith healing, or anything remotely related, and yet they do – “progress in technology” doesn’t mean a damn thing.

      If you believe that the treatment is working, I would invite you to google cancer statistics, whereupon you will note that spontaneous remission is a well-documented phenomenon in cancers, with a recent study suggesting upwards of 22% of breast cancers going into spontaneous remission. I might suggest that you read this long, but excellent analysis of why patient testimonials (and in particular, three testimonials in the Burzynski movie) are often not what they appear to be:

      Finally, there is the disturbing revelations that, in many cases, patients are being prescribed chemotheraputic drugs (at highly elevated costs from Burzynski’s pharmacy) without their knowledge. Receiving chemotherapy may be affecting their tumours (which is, of course, attributed to the antineoplastons) but, more worryingly, may leave them stuck if they choose to opt for another, legitimate clinical trial, as many of them will stipulate that no chemotherapy can have been used prior to the start of the trial. (

      It’s ironic that you finish your post with a call to fact check, considering that you a) received your facts from a blog post of a patient, and b) are undeniably so convinced of the efficacy by this one blog post that you are immune to facts. There is plenty of information out there on his treatment, but quantity and quality are not the same things. Until it is proven that it works, by something other than questionable patient testimonials, people will continue to be skeptical of this treatment, and rightly so.

      What is being sold here is an expensive cocktail of drugs which do not work, traditional chemotherapy drugs for off-label, unapproved uses, and a big lump of false hope:

      1. “the clinic makes millions of dollars but somehow declares no income.”
        Slight correction: that’s the Burzynski Research Institute, which may well be a separate legal entity to the clinic itself. Unfortunately, I cannot verify this.

        The Research Institute spends millions of dollars, but has neither income nor assets to show for it.

    6. Okay.

      It seems no matter how many times it gets said it seems super falls into a common trap.

      I’ll put it simply.
      Anecdotes, and evidence/facts are completely different things.


      This is doubly true when the Anecdotes are stories on the internet and/or youtube videos, as these could be easily exaggerated or faked, and how is anyone supposed to tell the difference?

      The things you refer to are unsubstantiated Anecdotes.
      The medical and scientific approach to research is to let others replicate and  thoroughly review your work. 
      The facts are, there are very many organisations and individuals who would very much want to cure cancer, yet no-one has been able to replicate any success with Buryz. treatment.  So at very best – it is medically unproven.Without any solid and checkable evidence from him why should the establishment take any of his claims seriously? (remember he’s been at it 20+ years so surely there should be a large body of research he’s built up)

    7. That’s commonly known as ‘anecdotal evidence’.  Which is not scientific proof.

      All BoingBoing (and everyone else) is asking for is proof that it works.  You know, science and all that.

      Pretty reasonable request if they’re charging hundreds of thousands of pounds for the treatment.

      Incidentally, there are plenty of treatments that don’t work that still cure people, it’s called the placebo effect; which doesn’t cost £200,000; and shouldn’t (ethically) be touted to dying patients as a cure.

    8. Bloodletting continued as medical treatment for hundreds of years (killing George Washington along the way) because people thought it worked based on anecdotes like your link (and you haven’t been paying attention – it precisely this little girl’s story that started this story). You see sometimes people get better anyway.

      But medicine requires more than ‘some people got better while doing X’. Medicine needs “Doing X needs to be better than doing nothing” (more precisely placebo).

      And the way to do this is by carrying out double-blind studies, and publishing them in reputable journals. Something Burzynski is incapable of doing. Ergo there is no proof that this treatment is better than running naked in a field of rutting rhinos. When your defenders like ‘super’ seem totally unaware of the existence of data, evidence based medicine, and the concept of the journal, then you’re on shaky ground.

  3. I suspect The Burzynski Clinic’s claims exactly as much as I suspect the veracity of information that is presented by the ‘Peer-Review’ gang. They can have each other, ugh.

  4. You suspect the veracity of science in general? All of it? Peer-review is how scientists publish results, the “‘Peer-Review’ gang” is composed of every scientist on the planet! Do you also doubt whether the sun will rise in the morning?

  5. You suspect the veracity of science in general? All of it?

    Do Not confuse science with peer review: science must be validated by evidence which is very much more robust than peer review.  All too often, people take “peer-reviewed” to mean “incontrovertibly true”, and that’s a very long way from being the case.

    Here’s what the present editor of the British medical journal “The Lancet” said about peer review:

    The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability—not the validity—of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.

  6. To be fair, conference abstracts really do count to some extent, if it’s a decent conference.  The organizers go through the abstracts, and only allow some of them to be presented as a talk (or even poster, in some crowded venues).  So if the first talk on a topic is bunk, you tend not to get to give it again (depending upon the venue, again, anyways).  Similarly, people DO put new results into reviews upon occasion (ESPECIALLY when they’re only reviewing their own work), and reviews are peer reviewed themselves in many high-tier journals (which, admittedly, are probably not where the ones in question were submitted).  

    All that being said – results that lack peer review CAN, and often DO, support something.  It’s kind of like truth – regardless of what folks THINK, the truth remains true.  The facts don’t change.  And peer review is by no means faultless of flawless – it’s rather easy to discover something new and radical, have it be 100% accurate, and have the peer review come back negative, because the reviewers think it’s wrong, and don’t care enough to do it themselves (or, worse, actively want to suppress the work).  Peer review is a fine system, the best we have right now, but it in no way impacts whether data is accurate, or supportive of a hypothesis.  It merely attempts to figure that out before the wider audience is exposed.  But, to posit the hypothetical question – if one’s paper is accurate, but consistently fails review, ought one not to publish it?

    And impact factor (a measure of how often articles in the journal are cited) is a fine, but not totally conclusive, measure of the quality of the journal.  For example, Philosophic Transactions A and B (the ones BoingBoing and others were so excited about having released the full archives online recently) have factors of only 2.5 and 6, respectively (and while 6 is respectable, and quite high for, say, chemistry, B is a biology journal, where high-tier tends to mean a factor of well over 20 [Cell has over 30, for instance]).  Similarly, impact factor is easy to distort – a popular crystallography paper about a new bit of software that revolutionized the field independently changed its host journal’s impact factor by a huge amount.  And, citation isn’t the be-all do-all of paper quality – anybody familiar with NMR has probably read, printed, and used on a daily basis Gottlieb’s 1997 JOC paper (or an update thereof), but this article has just less than 500 cites.  While 500 is a good quantity in general, this remains an article that is absolutely known and utilized, for example, by an enourmous portion of the chemistry community – certainly orders of magnitude more then the number that have cited it.  Clearly, folks think it’s important, good science, even if they don’t cite it.
    Not that any of this necessarily impacts the conclusion made (that the ‘science’ in question is shoddy), but some rather flawed arguments are being used to get to that conclusion, at least as quick-quoted here.Lastly, on a different point – you can watch industry, and how it often (but not always) prefers projects that manage a condition over those that might cure it.  Part of this is profit.  Part is that there’s a better track record for non-curatives actually working.  That being said, cancer isn’t going to stop any time soon, each one is unique, and there’s plenty left to do.  And, unlike Malaria (for example) cancer absolutely cannot be eradicated, so there’ll always be profit left to make, even in full cures.

  7. Burzynski taking UK bloggers to court, over claims Burzynskis cancer cure doesn’t work could be very interesting. The 1939 Cancer Act states that you can’t claim to cure Cancer.

  8. Some of you might want to skip this. It’s anecdotal.

    I just spent four days in Houston with an old friend to assess the Burzynski clinic and its treatment. My friend has mesothelioma. It’s a form of cancer, but instead of one or six tumors, it’s buckshot throughout his system. Once it kicks in, which can be forty years after the initial exposure to asbestos, it balloons, and you may get a year and half if you’re lucky. Ask a traditional oncologist how often people recover from mesothelioma, and they’ll generally look away before they answer. 

    What’s more, my friend has a rarer form in that it isn’t localized in the lungs. It’s rare enough my friend, a struggling writer with no health insurance, attracted the interest of the NIH, and they flew him across the country and studied him and operated on him for free. In the process of scraping tumors out his stomach best they could, which entailed pretty much scraping out all his stomach lining, they discovered many, many more tumors they couldn’t do anything about. They stitched him up and sent him home, and tried to give him what support and guidance they could even after their funding for his program was cut. 

    He tried chemo twice. Cisplatin, which is the worst, made him ill and depressed all the time, and lose weight like you can’t imagine. You go and you see your friend and he’s a bag of skin hung on a skeleton, and you try to be positive and upbeat about his chances. And you know you’re lying to your friend, and he knows. When he quit chemo, his oncologist more or less hinted he was a lightweight, but by then my friend had a clear sense his oncologist was just going through the motions. He decided to enjoy the few months he had left.

    Then a family member found Burzynski on the web, and we all did our browsing. We found sites that said he was a quack and sites that said he was a saint. Blogs use phrases like “thin, unconvincing gruel” in talking about his research. But for some people it’s not a matter of surfing and writing wry comments. It’s life and death. Going through a Burzynski patient network, my friend hooked up with a former mesothelioma patient who was more or less dead when they tried the clinic’s antineoplaston treatment. That was eight years ago, and this person is free of cancer now. If you ask a traditional oncologist about this, he or she will have an explanation: it was merely a sudden and spontaneous remission.

    Understand, what makes studies kind of dicey for Burzynski is that by the time people come to him, they’re usually well on their way to dying. That’s the pool of patients he gets.

    My friend was sure he felt his tumors shrinking the week he began taking the antineoplaston liquid. He felt his energy coming back, and he needed fewer pain meds. But this was all subjective, of course. So he was pretty freaked waiting for his oncologist to phone him with the latest results of his first post-antineoplaston PET scan. The oncologist was clearly no way comfortable saying this, but all of the tumors had shrunk. My friend burst into tears and hugged a stranger standing next to him.

    I don’t know who Marc Stephens is. I imagine he’s someone who revers Dr. Burzynski and flew off the handle. Burzynski has been vilified for years, and had to defend himself against the FDA a half dozen times, and people feel they need to defend him and his work. I had to squint as I read the email to imagine that this guy was really threatening someone’s kid [and Cory, can you please code that phrase to show up in fire-engine-hysteria red?]. At the Burzynski clinic, we spent a lot of time between appointments in the reception area. The walls are covered with snapshots of people. A lot of children. We read letters from patients who had enclosed pictures of their weddings or their children; some of these letters were from patients who had come as children to the clinic for brain tumors and things like that, and here they were writing fifteen to twenty years later. There are a lot of pictures of Dr. Burzynski with children.

    My friend knows he is not out of the woods yet, but he is alive when he expected to be dying, and his tumors are, so far, shrinking. Likely had he read all this on boingboing about Burzynski, had he listened to some of you, or to his traditional oncologist, he would be in his last days if not dead by now. You can ignore this little story, discount it, call it anecdotal. Just know that for some of us it’s life and death.

  9. Jen McCreight does some excellent work, however, I have some qualms with the way you present the relevancy of her analysis.  As a working scientist myself, I am constantly butting up against counter opinions offered in the fields of climate change or evolution by ‘scientists’ who do not work in this field, as if simply having earned a general degree qualifies one to pronounce on specific topics (and, in my cases, disagree with experts in those fields). Jen’s authority is that of a science blogger who writes on alternative medicine or a graduate biology student, and she should be presented as such. Both qualify her to speak to some degree on this topic. Simply being “a scientist” does not give her special authority. (Let’s put a stop to the “scientists claim” theme in news stories. More context is always better.)

  10.  Ok…as someone who has had cancer twice and is finally in permanent remission due to conventional treatments, I have done a lot of research into alternative therapies, and let me say this on antineoplaston hooha-erapy… It is STRAIGHT UP UNETHICAL for anyone with a medical license to charge $60,000 a year for a treatment that causes you to have to stop receiving  all conventional treatments (that could actually be doing something and have been proven to work) before you can begin it, AND  that the American Cancer Society warns against, saying “Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences”.

    1. Actually, it would appear that he does slip conventional chemo drugs into the treatment. Not necessarily the drugs that would be used for that kind of tumor, or with the patient’s knowledge.

      So even an apparent success may really be due to chemo.

  11. And, of course, the fact that he’s charging for what is, really, a clinical trial, is rather suspect in the first place.  Normally, they pay YOU to undertake clinical trials.  Even in cancer, which is a rough field for trials anyways in the US, since by law you can only allow people in who’ve already had rather a lot of other treatments fail for them, meaning you get a mostly dead person with an incredibly unbalanced body chemistry.

    But even for them, the trial runner pays.  That’s how they work, and they’re unethical enough, and difficult enough to validate, in THAT case.  Imagine how impossible it’d be if the trial takers were paying the druggist, who suddenly had immediate motivation to keep saying ‘yeah, of course it’s working, give me more money!’

  12. “My friend was sure he felt his tumors shrinking”

    Well, *that* is definitive.  Instead of nonsense like this, ask the oncologist who witnessed this miracle to post.  If remission is very rare for this cancer, surely there’s a paper to be written here with pre and post remission x-rays etc.

    Unnamed friends, unnamed doctors etc.  Worthless

  13. Amazing – your “friend” had no money but managed to find the ~$200,000.00 that the treatment costs.

    Not amazing – your “friend” had his tumors shrink after undertaking a quack therapy by a quack doctor who has been known to sneak known effective chemotherapy drugs into his treatment plan.

    Extra Amazing – the fact that you can’t see your “friend” was duped into paying at least an order of magnitude more money for regular chemo drugs wrapped in a fancy bow.

  14. Regarding my post earlier, several have asked how ‘my friend’ paid for his treatment. First, it’s running closer to $4K monthly, and we have enough for a year, which is how long the other meso patient kept up her treatment. I don’t know how other people come up with the money for Burzynski’s more expensive treatments, but my friend has family and friends pitching in.

    But clearly the larger question here has been whether I’m lying about this whole thing.

    I have a new boingboing profile here because while I’ve come here several times a week for years I’ve never felt cause to add anything to these discussions. This changed when I saw Burzynski called a quack by people whose direct knowledge is confined to reading stuff on the internet. As I said, I have a very different experience with the man and the effects of his treatment.

    For some of you, my ‘emotional appeal’ had no worth. It was merely a firsthand account of — knock on wood — a so-far successful treatment of cancer using antineoplastons. I’m not surprised I lack credibility because I’m not volunteering my or my friend’s name or giving more specifics. Given some of the tone and manner I’ve seen displayed here, I don’t want my friend addressed like he’s a sock puppet. This has all been kind of a rollercoaster for him, as you may imagine. He told me he’s debating joining a big conference call on meso, but he’s reluctant to speak up because he doesn’t know yet if the results he’s been seeing will continue. At the same time he believes that if he himself hadn’t heard from someone for whom the treatment had worked, he’d be gone by now. Add to this that the meso patient he spoke to originally typically fields two to three calls a week from strangers looking for information about the Burzynski clinic’s treatment, only to learn they can’t afford it, and you can see why it’s not easy to go public.

    I wish Burzynski were cheaper. I don’t think any insurance covers him, though I don’t recall for sure. As it stands, only those who can get the bucks together somehow can benefit from this treatment. But that’s an entirely separate issue from whether the treatment works.

    The only person I cared about, in writing the post above, is the person searching online to see if anyone has had positive results from working with Burzynski and his anti-neoplastons.

    To James Penrose, who believes my friend’s oncologist would be eager to write a groundbreaking paper about the PET scans, you might want to ask any oncologist you know how eager he/she is be to be associated with non-traditional treatments.

    And to Abba Bryant, who thinks Burzynski duped me and my friend, and slipped chemo in his anti-neoplaston dosages like they were a mickey finn, so that he got better because he was *unknowingly* undergoing traditional chemo treatment — you’re absolutely right, I admit it, that one never occurred to me, having seen what my friend looked like previously after five days of chemo.

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