On Stanislaw Burzynski, "antineoplastons," and cancer cure scams

At Disinfo.com, guest contributor and cancer-scam-debunker Bob Blaskiewicz has written a piece about Houston-based Stanislaw Burzynski (photo at left). Burzynski's advocates would like you to believe is a persecuted savior of cancer patients who holds the key to a cure that Big Pharma and the FDA want to suppress.

"An important sign of quackery is the depiction of the doctor as a lone genius fighting against special interests trying to suppress crusading work," writes Blaskiewicz— but Burzynski's associates appear to be engaging in suppression, themselves. Blaskiewicz writes about the "thuggery of some of his supporters (which included the creation of a website at the same IP as burzynskipatientgroup.org that defamed numerous skeptics, myself included, as pederasts)" to distract from Burzynski's decades-long failure to produce "a single convincing study" about his treatment's efficacy.

Here at Boing Boing, Cory has written about their history of legal threats to online critics, and scientists' debunking of their trials.

While Burzynski fails to liberate his patients from cancer, he has a remarkable talent for liberating them from their money.

From the position of an informed patient advocate, everything about the Burzynski Clinic reeks of medical charlatanry. He is not a trained oncologist, but he is treating cancer. He posits a novel mechanism for cancer (a patient’s lack of antineoplastons) that is unrecognized in the medical literature as a cause. His ANP is marketed as an alternative to chemotherapy, but he gives patients chemo cocktails mixed with “terrifying” doses of sodium phenylbutyrate, mixtures that have not been adequately tested for safety and which causes hypernatremia in his patients. He has sold ANP not only as a cancer treatment, but also as an HIV treatment, an unjustified action for which he was severely disciplined by the Texas Medical Board. Checks for donations that are meant to go “toward the continuation of the Clinical Trials and Research” are to be made out directly to “S.R. Burzynski, M.D., Ph.D.” He has initiated over 60 phase II studies over the decades and seems to have completed exactly zero of them. Three independent investigations, published together in The Cancer Letter, concluded that his studies were “uninterpretable,” and that Burzynski defined successful treatment as “stable disease,” a lowered standard that no other oncologist or researcher accepts.

Burzynski's medical license is under review for an array of ethical violation charges, including “failure to meet the standard of care, negligence, lack of informed consent, unprofessional conduct, and nontheraputic prescribing.”

The fact that Tony Robbins, Dr. Oz, and "alternative physician" Joseph Mercola endorse his work should tell you plenty.

This piece, it should be noted, was written in response to a prior, credulous Disinfo.com guest post, "Burzynski: Fighting the Big Pharma Cartel to Cure Cancer," a fawning piece on the advertorial film about Burzynski.

And, full disclosure: I read that one, and complained to Disinfo via Twitter that this piece perpetuated (no pun intended) disinformation and lethal bullshit woo about cancer, and suggested to Disinfo that Blaskiewicz be invited to write a counter-opinion piece. Kudos to Disinfo for presenting a science-based view.

I am not an impartial observer. I am a cancer patient, no fan of "Big Pharma" or the FDA, and no fan of the brutal side effects of the evidence-based treatment protocols that remain the best we have to fight this disease. But the one thing I hate more than cancer are opportunistic bastards who exploit our fear of death, and that of our loved ones, to line their pockets while they watch us die.

Read: "Stanislaw Burzynski and the Antineoplaston Scam," by Bob Blaskiewicz, at Disinformation.


  1. I wish I could understand people like Mercola, who just seem to have decided to promote everything that even sounds vaguely like it’s probably bullshit. One of these days, he’s going to accidentally promote actual medicine. 

  2. I’ve heard this guy’s name for awhile now, and am shocked that he hasn’t had his license revoked yet.  Great job Xeni, bringing this to an even larger audience!

  3. It is stunning that Burzynski has gotten away with his shenanigans for so long. The wheels of government seem to move slowly or not at all in regulating this BS. The FDA finally slapped down Burzynski, but not for his decades of performing never completed clinical trials so that he apparently can sell un-approved, investigational cancer treatments for money, but for advertising them, which is a no-no. Cancer surgeon and researcher “Orac” relays the story:


  4. Things that I know from other topics which I have to imagine have some bearing upon the Burzinsky controversy:

    (1) The FDA has radically failed to properly assess the medical utility of cannabis.  The duration of trails which the FDA considers standard tends to favor treatments which address symptoms.

    (2) Cancer remains an enigma to biologists and medical doctors.  Given the investment which has occurred to attempt to address it, one can reasonably wonder if there’s something more to the story.  Critical thinkers will legitimately begin to ask questions, and the quality of the discourse depends heavily on them continuing to do so.  When people imagine that we need demarcation in science, to distinguish “real” science from “fringe” or pseudoscience, they ignore the problem of unconceived alternatives.  The philosophical problem of unconceived alternatives in science demands that we perfect the art and technique of argumentation.  What you see with Web 2.0 today is a completely pathetic attempt to address ill-structured, wicked problems.  If you guys think that the “dialogue” or “debate” you see happening online today is somehow properly dealing with complexity, you’ve completely lost your mind.  We can do better than this — much better.  In fact, I would suggest that we haven’t actually seriously tried to address complexity in scientific discourse yet.  And attempts at demarcation in science is really just throwing ones’ hands up in the air, and letting others tell us what is real and not.

    (3) For instance, how many of you realize that there has been a raging debate within cell biology for half a century now about the pump-and-channel hypothesis?  See Gilbert Ling and Gerald Pollack.  Too many people today are ignoring too many controversies in science, and instead expressing their personal faith within the peer review process.

    (4) How many people who salivate at the words “peer review” have ever taken the time to look up peer review studies of peer review?  I can guarantee that the number is practically zero, because those papers are quite unanimous in their findings that peer review is extremely problematic.  It’s been said by one researcher who studied peer review that if it was a drug, it would be banned, because the process consistently fails us.  I encourage everybody to develop a more meaningful understanding of peer review, instead of just buying into the faith-based approach to peer review which we see stated online every day.

    (5) There is a tendency amongst specialists to ignore vast swaths of information, and apply a simplicity-filter to the world which they see.  The truth is that the world tends to be more complicated than specialists generally perceive.  In particular, this view that there are no politics in science is completely unfounded.  Politics are involved at the very core of the process which we use to train scientists today.  After all, around 50% of our PhD students will drop out or be kicked out before they complete their programs.  Jeff Schmidt has written in his scathing critique of the physics PhD program (Disciplined Minds) that the process is *not* politically neutral, and in fact favors the “gung-ho” “ass-kisser” types who are more concerned with competing against other students for their professors’ favor than cultivating deep, critical thought on the subjects they are learning.

    (6) Most of our best students today are talented memorizers.  That’s because that’s how we trained them: the extreme focus upon testing in our educational institutions has led students to realize that it’s faster to “learn” a subject through rote memorization than to meaningfully learn the concepts (which would require them to assimilate the concepts into their current knowledge structures).  Without assimilation, scientific facts memorized through rote will generally last around 6-8 weeks, before the student forgets them.  This approach to teaching is the basis of our educational system.  Given the degree to which we know that this is dysfunctional, why is it that people tend to assume that our scientific theories are nevertheless so perfect?

    I can’t speak specifically about the Burzynski debate, and I’ll refuse to do so until I properly immerse myself within *both* sides of that debate (as should everybody actually), but there is this larger context for what is happening in science today which should, in theory, help people to realize that we need to learn to have these complex debates in a civil manner, and remain focused upon finding the truth — rather than servicing some unfounded beliefs we may come into the subject with about the awesomeness of the FDA, peer review and science.  To be clear, like all things in the real world, science is complicated.

    1. Science’s side: There are effective, peer-reviewed treatments that can treat and sometimes cure many, many kinds of cancer. And they get better every year,.
      Burzynski’s side: His refuses to do proper studies on his preparations and steals as much money as he can from the most vulnerable people and sells them nothing but false hope before they die,

      There you go, Both sides.

    2. I can’t speak specifically about the Burzynski debate, and I’ll refuse to do so until I properly immerse myself within *both* sides of that debate

      Given the length of your comment, that’s hilarious.

    3. Starting 60 trials and not finishing any of them or documenting their failures is a really really bad sign.  That says he’s not following established experimental procedures, and is probably covering up results he doesn’t like. 

      Dr. Ben Goldacre gave a really good TED talk recently on the critical importance of reporting negative results, and on how failing to do this (in both the US and UK) results in regulators not making good drug approval decisions and physicians not knowing what they need to make good prescription decisions.  You can go watch it at http://www.badscience.net/category/big-pharma/

    4. Regarding your statements (to play a bit of devil’s advocate)…

      2) The scientific debate does not occur on the internet currently.  The complexity is addressed at conferences, and between researchers.  This is in part because science is data driven, thus not well suited to open discourse.  There are many reasons why Web 2.0 has not addressed complex scientific discussion.  Take a look at your average comments section; this is a big reason why.  Unfortunately, the scientific discipline is highly competitive, which does not lend itself to open proposal of ideas.  Ideas are regularly stolen, which may be great for society in the short term (better ideas are tried faster, by multiple groups) but terrible for society in the long term (by undermining scientific career development and driving the talent away).  Can you imagine Apple or Google having open disclosure of their research in progress?  Science doesn’t theoretically need to follow the capitalist model (and it might not be best served under one), but because resources are so limited and it is so highly competitive currently, it does.  If the NIH approved every worthwhile grant (instead of funding levels ~10-15%), then open discussion would be more likely.

      4) If ANYONE acknowledges problems with peer review, it is the scientific community.  The problem is, there isn’t a better solution currently available.  Until biologists and chemists adopt the open publishing platform like physicists, and are tied to the current closed publishing oligopolies, this won’t change.  

      5) I couldn’t disagree with the first part of this statement enough.  Specialists are the ones who acknowledge the complexity of their systems, but they often don’t convey that to the general public.  This is rarely productive.  Instead, we distill down our research into edible bites, so that it can be understood by the general public.  But don’t try to tell me that you understand the complexity of biological systems better than those who study them.

      On the second, seemingly unrelated points, yes science is political.  Of course it is.  All human endeavors are political.  There is no way to perform a merit based system without a perfect, ideal metric to evaluate people on.  Such a thing does not exist.  As far as favoring those who compete with their peers, how is that a negative attribute?  The world is a competitive place.  Grant money is competitive, resources are limited.  From personal experience in obtaining my PhD, I noticed that those who developed a deep understanding of their system were able to out compete those who didn’t put in the effort, and thus were more successful.  Yes, there are always instances of misconduct you can point out (scientists are human, after all), but in my experience there were not examples of students that developed deep critical thinking skills and deep understandings but were overshadowed by ass-kisser peers.  If you have a deep understanding of your system but cannot design the experiments to demonstrate your ability, you are not a worthy scientist anyway; you should teach or go into scientific journalism.

      6) Applies to undergraduate education, but not graduate education.  Real scientists are not “rote memorizers” because that does not teach you to design or evaluate an experiment.  Thus, you will fail miserably in graduate school and in your independant career.  Sure, we could train students earlier in their education, but that is a critique of high school and undergraduate education, not the graduate educational system.  Proof in point: the typical graduate education is 1 year of classes (in which grades are meaningless, trust me), and 5-6 years of experimentation where memorization will not help the least bit.

      And regarding your concluding statement, no one is asking for you to weigh in on the validity of Burzynski’s claims.  He has produced no successful data, and no reproducible data.  Thus, his claims have no proven merit.  The burden of proof is on him, and he has failed to provide it for decades.

    5.  Your comment is entirely too long, pedantic and boring.  You lost me after maybe the the third or fourth sentence.  If you have a point, can you make it a little shorter, maybe I can decide whether I agree with you or not.

    6. Web 2.0 may not have solved the problem of scientific debate, but the full implementation of HTML 5 in all browsers most certainly will.

      If not then, then with Perl 6.

  5. we need to learn to have these complex debates in a civil manner

    This is all very well but there is no complexity involved in debating about the Burzynski treatment. He’s a fraud whose patients die.

  6. The FDA is a strange beast, on the one hand it is there for researchers and business; at the same time it is there to protect the public. We should split those functions up to clear up that conflict of interest, which I think has fed the longstanding perpetuation of the Burzynski scam.

  7. “thuggery of some of his supporters (which included the creation of a website at the same IP as burzynskipatientgroup.org that defamed numerous skeptics, myself included, as pederasts)”

    When prospective patients cannot scrape together the huge prices charged at the Burzynski clinic for cheap off-the-shelf chemicals, they are offered help in setting up websites to solicit donations… accounting for much of the Burzynski-friendly presence on the Web. Although the operation has made no breakthroughs in medical science, they have certainly come up with some innovations in outsourcing the scam.

    Remember that Marc Stephens — the Burzynski employee who was eventually sacked when he went off the reservation and started threatening critics — was employed for his expertise in website design, and specifically in gaming the Google algorithms to ensure a prominent position for these solicitation sites within Google searches.

  8. Did anyone else read the phrase, “Blaskiewicz writes about the ‘thuggery of some of his supporters…'”, and immediately think of the Church of Scientology?

  9. I’m tempted to ask “is there a lawyer in the house”, but seriously, there isn’t a lawyer on the planet who would defend these douches.  Apart from profit.  As for Scientologists, They’re really are no better or worse than all the other religions, they’re just making up for lost time and trying to get the money together real fast.
    Yeah, sue me!

  10. Xeni – I haven’t watched Dr. Oz’s show, but I’d thought he was a legitimate TV doctor; I’m surprised to hear you say he’s supporting quacks.  Thanks.  (Tony Robbins, of course, is well-known to be on the other side.)

    1. Ken’s second open latter to Marc Stephens is particularly pungent:

      Marc, kindly take this post — the link to which I will email to you — as a formal, legally binding, 100% certified style invitation to snort my taint.

      If we do not hear from you, your information will be forwarded for further investigation, and a associate will contact you.

      There’s “we” again. Honestly, Marc, you’re starting to freak me out. How many of you are there? Is this the same “we” as above, or a different “we”? Also, is the associate part of the “we” or not? Are you talking about, like, a law firm associate? Because if you have a lawyer, Marc, I’d be totes happy to call him right now. Or do you mean an “associate” in the sense of “Wayne, who lets me sleep on his futon when I can’t pick up enough shifts at Arby’s?” Or is it more malevolent, like in mob movies: “my associate, [name with ‘the’ in the middle], will discuss this with you”? Or . . . wait a minute, Marc. Can . . . can anyone other than you see and hear this associate? Because if this associate is a giant goddam invisible rabbit, Marc, that’s a deal-breaker. I hate rabbits, and a six-foot invisible rabbit would freak me right the fuck out. Are you siccing your invisible rabbit on me, Marc? Because if that’s what you’re saying, I think we have a problem here and there SHOULD be a federal investigation. Threatening people with giant rabbits through the electronic mails is almost certain a violation of several federal statutes, possibly including wire fraud depending on the existence or non-existence of the rabbit.

  11. A friend of a friend with a cancer double whammy is trying to go to the Burzynski clinic, since the NHS has said that she’s beyond curing.

    So, I got a fundraising request through facebook, and had a heck of a time trying to figure out what to do with it.  Personal experience has left me with a special dislike for cancer quackery, and yet how do you nicely tell someone that their frantic fundraising is for an endeavour that will only waste their friend’s increasingly precious time.  That their hope is a false hope, and that Burzynski is just a very expensive way to die in a strange land, far from friends and family.

    In the end, I wimped out, and simply replied “There’s no good way to say this, but have you done much research on the Burzynski clinic?”  Part of me feels like I should have said more, but the rest of me feels like maybe it’s not a message that needs to come from a facebook friend.

  12. I’m a cynic who, personally, thinks all homeopathic medicine is BS (but, to be fair, if it works for some people – placebo effect and all- good for them, it’s just not for me). What I’m shocked about is the people who say they’ve found cures in clearly, obviously, not-even-needing-to-be-tested dangerous methods. A few years ago I was looking through some forums for people suffering from interstitial cystitis (like a UTI, but all the damn time) and there were a number of people touting this website that “cured” them, supposedly 100%, of the disorder. I went and did a little snooping about, because at that time I was desperate for something that would work to ease my pain – nothing the doctors prescribed was helping and was willing to go against my nature and try something homeopathic. So what was this miracle cure? Basically drinking diluted bleach. This cure, which has also been pushed as a cure for HIV, sickle-cell anemia, and a host of other diseases, was just household bleach and water but stated in much more official, scientific wording. I was so shocked that I informed the moderators for the forums, and since then I haven’t seen that website come up as a cure anymore. But I was left with this burning question: who the hell are the people that tout this stuff as an actual cure? And I guess it’s the same people who get wrapped up in the clinic in this article: if you’re desperate for a cure, you’re willing to try just about anything, even if it seems insane or dangerous. It’s sad to see people pray (unknowingly, or even more upsetting, knowingly) on that tiny sliver of hope that seems to remain even at the worst of times, due to the human will to survive and prosper.

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