You had suggested that I respond to the NBC News Dateline program of Sunday, February 20, 2010. I am happy to do so, to set the record straight in terms of the information regarding myself and my nutritional approach to cancer.
As a general point, the idea that I have been less than transparent, either with NBC during the production of this show, or within our profession, is simply preposterous. For the past year, I have provided the Dateline producer, Ami Schmitz, with whatever documentation she requested about any aspect of my therapy, no matter how strange I might think the request. For example, during our first phone exchange, she asked me about my finances and income, and asked to see my income tax returns – which I happily provided her, probably to her disappointment because my income is so modest. I doubt very much that she similarly asked to see income tax returns when she interviewed Dr. Cassileth, Dr. Weil, the American Cancer Society spokesman, or the oncologist criticizing Dr. Burzynski. To this day I have no understanding of the relevance of my income to the science behind what we do.
During the past year, I spent hours on the phone with Ms. Schmitz, e-mailed often at great length on countless occasions, sometimes several times a day, and provided a stream of documents demonstrating the scientific rationale from the conventional medical literature for much of what I do. Ms. Schmitz asked for case summaries and records of ten patients with appropriately diagnosed advanced cancer who did well under my care, with proof of response. I wrote up 15 case studies including several diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and gave her the requested records, though not one word of this effort, or these patients, made its way into the show. I provided the requested documentation about my training, job offers at Sloan-Kettering that I turned down, even information about my family genealogy. My grandfather, an accomplished cellist from a very well known musical family in Mexico, was very active in one of that country’s failed democratic revolutions, and Ms. Schmitz wanted the background on that.
In terms of my transparency within the medical profession, I have been accumulating data and presenting such data on the enzyme approach to cancer since I was a medical student, beginning with my discussions with Dr. Robert A. Good, my mentor at Cornell University Medical School who first encouraged my initial research efforts. I have presented repeatedly at the NIH and at the NCI, have presented at numerous scientific conferences over the past 23 years, have published clinical results and co-authored basic science research in the peer-reviewed medical journals. I have opened my offices to the scientists of major corporations, all of which Ms. Schmitz knows, such as Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, who provided millions of dollars in research funding. When the National Cancer Institute offered a grant to test my approach in patients diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, I accepted without hesitation, though the study would ultimately be undermined at many levels. So, the accusation that I have been less than forthcoming with anybody, including NBC, is nonsense.
Throughout, the Dateline producers and editors effectively colored their story to minimize the positives about me and my treatment approach. For example, though Ms. Schmitz, Dr. Snyderman and I spoke at length about my training and background, none of that appears. I would think the audience would like to know that I have respectable educational credentials, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude at Brown, postgraduate studies in science at Columbia, medical school at Cornell, fellowship in cancer immunology under Dr. Good, the most published author in the history of medicine and the “father of modern immunology,” as the New York Times obituary of him claimed. I think the audience would have been interested to know that under Dr. Good’s tutelage I actually was trained in bone marrow transplantation, about as conventional and aggressive as oncology gets.
I just do not understand why Dateline focused on a peripheral aspect of my treatment, the “hair test,” which we use as an adjunctive evaluating method but never as a primary diagnostic tool. First of all, we do not accept patients unless they have been previously diagnosed by conventional methodologies. Virtually all our patients arrive having been extensively evaluated and in most cases extensively treated by conventional physicians. We continue to require conventional testing as appropriate for each case – as Ms. Schmitz well knows. We do also use a hair test which is little known, and considered worthless in some circles, as the critics claimed during the show. This is their opinion, which I think is ignorant. I have been studying this test now for close to thirty years, since I first began working under Dr. Good and with his approval, and have found it very valuable in fine tuning nutritional protocols. As the show claimed, it can give a tumor marker I find in general far more accurate than standard blood tumor markers.
The hair test does seem unusual at first glance, as it did to me when I first learned about it from Joan, the woman featured on the show. However, its history, as Ms. Schmitz again knows, goes back 100 years to Dr. Abrams, a neurologist at Stanford, who first became convinced that our cells, tissues and organs have an electrical field that can be measured and that can in turn yield considerable information about the state of the body and its various components. Those that followed in Abrams’ footsteps, including a former Chairman of Anatomy at Yale, and a group of scientists in England, developed a simple instrument that seemed able to translate this electrical field into meaningful data about various biochemical and physiological functions, as well as disease states. However simple the test may seem, at times in science the simple ideas prove most valuable.
Joan is one of the few Americans ever accepted into the rigorous training program in England, which she completed before I even met her. She had the time, energy and resources to study the method and is the only operator I know of in the US performing the test properly.
Before I considered using this test with patients I subjected it, and the operator to rigorous evaluation. During the mid-1980s, when I first became interested in its possibilities, I sent multiple samples for testing with no information provided about the patients whatsoever. Joan with nearly 100% accuracy was able to pinpoint each patient’s specific problem and its severity.
Since I opened my practice in 1987, I have used the test primarily to give information about each patient’s nutritional status. Patients have never been charged for the test, though I pay Joan a modest monthly amount for which Joan works seven days a week with us because she so believes in our approach.
She has a personal reason for such dedication, as Ms. Schmitz knows but chose to leave out of the story. Joan became interested in alternatives when in 1977 her husband was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia, one of the most aggressive of cancers. When chemotherapy at a major academic center failed to put his disease in remission, Joan and her husband sought out treatment with my controversial predecessor, the late Dr. Kelley. With Kelley’s help, the disease regressed completely, enabling him to live another seven years before he died of causes unrelated to his cancer.
Yes, Joan does run a day spa on her extraordinary property. Dateline left out that she also maintains an extensive sculpture garden, has hosted scientific meetings in her convention center, and runs much of her land as a nature preserve in trust with the Nature Conservancy. Her father was a famed inventor, her first husband was a World War II and Korea fighter pilot, a Ph.D. astrophysicist graduate student and test pilot who died during a flight, leaving Joan with five children to raise. She later remarried a wonderful lawyer from an old Louisiana family with three children of his own. The idea that Joan is just a housewife from some small town broaches on idiocy.
The show included a dramatic segment showing a woman’s long locks of hair being shorn from the top. I have no idea where this hair cutting was done for the show, but it certainly wasn’t done in my office. Contrary to the portrayal on camera, we need only a snippet of hair the size of a pencil tip, which we always take from the back of the neck, not the large bunches of long strands shown being cut at the top of the head. I wonder if that wasn’t done in a studio, again with the purpose of making the test, and in turn, me, look bizarre.
Though Ms. Schmitz spoke with at least seven patients at length, including a patient with stage IV colon cancer now with me eight years, and a woman with stage IV breast cancer, now with me five years, the show featured only two in any detail, a new patient just beginning the program, and Sarah Ann Cooper, the woman with pancreatic cancer. Though two others did appear on camera, they seemed to provide only background, as there was no discussion of their medical history.
I thought that even Ms. Cooper’s segment had been edited so precisely to make her story less memorable. For example, I believe it would have been useful to mention that the pathology department at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota confirmed her diagnosis of the most aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Ms. Cooper underwent no standard therapy, not even surgery, only our treatment. She is now ten years out from diagnosis (not nine as the show states), and is in excellent health. I also would have thought the show would have at least mentioned how extraordinary such survival is for a disease that usually kills within six months. But the producers and writers left that up to the audience to figure out.
Dr. Snyderman refers to Ms. Cooper “whose stage IV cancer he says (referring to me) has shrunk and stabilized” as if this were my opinion only. First of all, though Ms. Cooper’s long-term survival for such a deadly disease is itself proof of treatment effect, in fact multiple conventional CT scans over the years have shown a gradual shrinkage of her pancreatic tumor, and more recently, stabilization. It’s the radiologist reading the scans who says this, not I, and NBC had all these records. While Dateline allocates considerable space to the “hair test,” there were no experts discussing the extraordinary nature of Ms. Cooper’s ten-year survival from her diagnosis of aggressive pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
During the show, Dr. Snyderman, in discussing costs, remarked that my therapy costs $12,000 for the first year. This in general would be correct, but it wasn’t made clear that the costs lessen after that first year, and the greatest expense are the supplements, not our own office fees. And though my colleague Dr. Isaacs and I have designed many if not most of the supplements we prescribe, we have no financial relationship, either directly or indirectly, with the company that sells the products to our patients.
I was disappointed in the “experts” chosen by Dateline to offer ongoing commentary throughout the story on Dr. Burzynski, myself, and alternative medicine in general: Dr. Barrie Cassileth from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), and Andrew Weil, MD, a well-known alternative medicine guru. Dateline presented both as experts on alternative medicine without question, and the viewer would certainly be left with the idea that these two are experts specifically in alternative cancer therapies. As Dr. Burzynski points out in his letter, neither are trained as cancer specialists, neither treats cancer and to my knowledge neither has ever treated a cancer patient as the primary caretaker. The show failed to make that point, though each was presented as a voice of knowledge and wisdom. But the producers and editors left out much more.
The show identified Dr. Cassileth as the Director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Integrative Medicine Service, and referred to her repeatedly throughout the hour as “Dr. Cassileth” without once defining just what kind of “Dr” Dr. Cassileth might be. The viewer could easily have assumed Dr. Cassileth is an MD, but in fact, Dr. Cassileth is not an MD, but a Ph.D. Of course, one would argue, a Ph.D. out of Sloan-Kettering and Director of their Integrative Medicine Service speaking on cancer on Dateline must be some sort of impressive basic scientist.
The MSKCC website includes lengthy biographies of all its staff members, including Dr. Cassileth. I assume she provided her own biography since it is written in first person, but interestingly enough, she doesn’t mention the field in which she earned her doctorate – unlike most of the other Sloan-Kettering staff.
When Dr. Cassileth and I had the good fortune to be seated next to each other at a dinner event some years back, we had ample opportunity to chat, in an informal way. Dr. Cassileth was extremely pleasant and respectful, even offering some condolences on some of the battles I’ve had to fight over the years. During that conversation, I learned a lot about Dr. Cassileth, including the nature of her education. She explained to me when I asked that her Ph.D. was in sociology.
There is no “transparency” to use the Dateline term on the show that Dr. Cassileth’s graduate studies were not in hard science, but in sociology. I think, especially since Dr. Cassileth so often assumes the role of expert the field of cancer research and alternative medicine cancer treatments, that in the future her training should be made clear.
Dr. Cassileth’s lack of formal medical training has never stopped her from offering opinions about cancer medicine or cancer research. Yet in her own interview on Dateline she mocks Suzanne Somers stating the actress is “not qualified to have an opinion about cancer treatments.” Dr. Cassileth, trained in neither medicine nor hard science, apparently believes those without medical training have no right to an opinion, except apparently in her own case. I disagree with the premise; in this country, even an actress has a right to an opinion about anything. That’s why we’re such a great country.
In any event, Dr. Cassileth presented many unsubstantiated claims. For example, in referring to alternative medicine practitioners, she states as fact “these people tend to make a lot of money.” How does she know? Has she done a study? I did not see her present a single piece of evidence to support her claim.
I do know that while my entire treatment for the first year, including supplements (which I do not sell) costs in the range of $12,000, a Whipple procedure – the standard operative treatment for pancreatic cancer, can cost in the range of $50,000 per operation for the surgeon – not bad for a few hours’ work though it most often fails to control the disease. Medicare which shortchanges everyone last I checked, allows $31,000 to the surgeon for the operation – still not a bad bit of change.
Dr. Cassileth makes the blanket statement “anecdotes don’t matter.” My mentor Robert Good who was the Director of Sloan-Kettering would disagree. Dr. Good frequently stated that nearly all great discoveries in medicine began with anecdotal observations, not controlled clinical studies – such as Dr. Jenner’s simple observations that milkmaids exposed to the mild cowpox seemed immune to the very deadly smallpox. It was an anecdotal observation of profound import.
More recently, Dr. Fleming observed that no bacteria grew in proximity to the penicillin fungus growing on a contaminated petri dish. From an instance of sloppy lab technique sprung the whole antibiotic industry.
And as I have written before, the FDA has itself approved cancer treatments, such as interleukin II, based on anecdotal patient responses.
Dr. Cassileth states, referring to alternative medicine practitioners, they “go after vulnerable helpless cancers patients with a claim something will help, and have never tested it to prove its benefit, is the problem.”
Early in my discourse with Ms. Schmitz, I suggested before she proceed with her story she get a copy of the wonderful book “False Hope” and read it to help open her mind. This wonderful tome tells the story of not some fringe alt med treatment, but the use by conventional oncologists of bone marrow transplant in the treatment of women with advanced or poor prognosis breast cancer. To sum up a long, tragic and complicated story, during the 1990s, the conventional oncology world promoted bone marrow transplants as a powerful high-tech treatment for women with advanced or poor prognosis breast cancer - despite the lack of any evidence that the treatment worked. No controlled clinical studies had been completed or even proposed when the treatment took hold. But despite the lack of supportive data, working astutely with the media and trial lawyers, oncologists were able to force insurance companies to pay for the procedure, which could cost up to $450,000 a transplant in those days.
The procedure not only was expensive, but also very toxic, responsible for killing 10-30% of those willing to undergo the treatment. But woman with breast cancer, presumably exemplary of the “vulnerable, helpless cancer patients” Dr. Cassileth references, lined up for the therapy. The enthusiasm for the treatment was so great in the profession that by the mid-1990s it became standard of care, again in the absence of any legitimate evidence of efficacy. It became the approach of the day in hospitals all over the country, and profit-making centers were set up just to provide the procedure. Fortunately a few honest oncologists kept insisting studies should be done to determine whether the therapy actually worked, but leaders in the profession insisted no trials were necessary. Finally, five studies were completed; four showed the therapy was no more effective than standard chemotherapy against breast cancer, one was very positive but ultimately proved to be completely fraudulent. The treatment was discredited, but not before 40,000 women underwent transplants for breast cancer, and thousand had their lives shortened unnecessarily.
In response to the host’s questions, Dr. Cassileth categorically states hair testing has “never” shown any value in the diagnosis or treatment of any disease. I was surprised such as incorrect statement would appear on the Dateline piece. Before the story aired, when I realized our hair test was going to be front and center, I sent Ms. Schmitz an article appearing in the March 1999 issue of Nature – an esteemed conventional scientific journal – entitled “Using hair to screen for breast cancer.” In this report, a group of Australian researchers described their findings showing that molecular changes in hair structure could be used to predict breast cancer occurrence with uncanny accuracy.
In my library I have a book entitled “Drug Testing in Hair” from CRC Press presenting extensive evidence that hair serves as a very accurate tissue to assess past drug use – findings now accepted by the FBI.
Now let us turn to Dr. Andrew Weil, author of bestselling books on healing, and breathing, and using water filters and whole grains, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, successful enough to end up on the cover of Time Magazine.
I met Dr. Weil twice, the first time when I spoke at a conference in Washington DC some thirteen years ago, and he was in the audience. We talked very briefly after my presentation. About a year later, I encountered Dr. Weil by chance at the New York Book Fair held annually on Fifth Avenue. Dr. Weil was at a booth promoting his books, I went over and said hello and we talked for about a minute. I have never spoken to him since. He has never expressed any interest in my work, in the science behind what I do, my results, nothing. Consequently I was quite surprised that Dr. Weil would feel himself an expert in my treatment. In fact he clearly knows very little about what I do. I myself stopped taking him seriously as a scientist when I happened to be in Bloomingdale’s looking for a gift for my wife some years ago and happened upon a rather large poster of Andrew Weil, announcing the Dr. Weil line of pots and pans – arrayed on counter after counter.
Dr. Weil, as does Dr. Cassileth, apparently sees the non-expert opinions of someone like Ms. Somers dangerous, stating on camera that people like her and me in terms of what we preach can “lead people to make not good decisions. “ Be that as it may, apparently like Dr. Cassileth, Dr. Weil thinks we must rely only on the opinions of conventional scientific researchers like those who promoted the use of bone marrow transplant for breast cancer.
I did chuckle to myself, I must admit, when I listened to Dr. Weil’s dismissal of coffee enemas, a mainstay of our therapy, which he derided as “an old hippie treatment.” Though I have been studying coffee enemas for some thirty years, I am completely unaware of hippies using them. I also found Dr. Weil’s mockery of something as “hippie” quite ludicrous – this is the guy who wrote his undergraduate thesis at Harvard on the narcotic properties of nutmeg, and who was a regular contributor to High Times. I would humbly suggest that if Dr. Weil wishes to once again reinvent himself and deny his own hippie roots, that he ditch the beard.
Dr. Weil seems totally unaware that coffee enemas do not come out of Haight-Ashbury (the original San Francisco 1960s hippie heaven) but the conventional medical literature. During my year talking to Ms. Schmitz, I presented her with the copious documentation showing that coffee enemas were part of mainstream medicine right through the first half of the 20th century. They were recommended in many major nursing texts and were included as a useful therapy in the Merck Manual, a compendium of conventional therapeutics, right up until the 1970s. My alternative mentor Dr. Kelley first began prescribing coffee enemas after reading about them in the Merck Manual, not in High Times.
Though the Dateline producers presented Dr. Weil and Dr. Cassileth as if they were experts about my work and devoted considerable time to their opinions, they deliberately edited to a brief mention their interview with the one person trained in oncology who truly understands the nature of my practice and my treatment. As Dr. Snyderman states, the Medical Board in New York assigned oncologist Dr. Julian Hyman to review my methods and supervise my practice in 1995. Though arriving from the opposition camp, he quickly discovered, as he has written, “miracles” in my office. After a year of regular review of my charts, patients, medical knowledge and ability, he ended up a strong supporter, defender, and close friend. I was honored to sit at his table during his recent 85th birthday celebration.
Dateline producers interviewed Dr. Hyman at his lovely home in New Jersey, then Dr. Snyderman interviewed him at length in Manhattan. Subsequently, Dateline sent a team to his home to photograph his wonderful and extensive art and print collection. Dr. Hyman, now retired, is not only an eminent oncologist, but also an expert nature photographer whose work has been exhibited in galleries. He is the former President of the New York Print Club, and a friend to many a well-known artist.
Dateline left out other significant information about Dr. Hyman that would have made his support of my work even more significant. Dr. Hyman comes from a family of doctors: his late brother, with whom he shared a practice, was an oncologist and Professor at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Julian’s son Steven, a research psychiatrist trained at Harvard Medical School and former director, National Institutes of Mental Health at the NIH in Washington, currently serves as Provost of Harvard – the second highest position in the University.
I think it’s disappointing that Dateline chose to marginalize Dr. Hyman. His defense of me, based on his exhaustive review of my practice, says more about my treatment than the long discourses of Dr. Weil and Dr. Cassileth, neither of whom have set foot in my office, neither of whom have reviewed a single one of my patient charts, and neither one of whom has ever expressed to me any interest in learning about the scientific underpinning of my therapy.
After his interview with Dr. Snyderman, Dr. Hyman called me, somewhat distressed over the tone and direction of the conversation. He couldn’t understand why Dr. Snyderman asked him multiple questions about the hair test, which Dr. Hyman observed during his stint in my office. He felt she should be concentrating on the patient successes, not an ancillary test.
As for the reference to my National Cancer Institute clinical trial conducted out of Columbia, I am astonished that Dateline would devote so little time to uncovering the truth of what really happened during the study. The Office of Human Research Protections, a government oversight group, after their investigation found the Principal Investigator had admitted 42 out of 62 patients improperly, including 40 improperly consented – hardly trivial paperwork issues. Because of these findings, OHRP required the team at Columbia undergo retraining in research methodology. This is on the OHRP website for all to see. I would have thought that Dateline would find such a turn of events newsworthy, since it was the alternative doctors, myself and my colleague Dr. Isaacs, who insisted the trial be run properly, and the Columbia team who messed up.
I gave Ms. Schmitz a copy of an official letter from the NIH written in January 2005, documenting that so many patients had been admitted by Columbia for our treatment who could not or would not follow the prescribed treatment, the data had no meaning. NBC had a copy of that letter but chose to ignore it.
The Principal Investigator at Columbia, we later learned, helped develop the treatment regimen that was being used against us – a conflict of interest that should have precluded him from serving in that role, and again raises very serious questions about the validity of any of the data.
On my website at www.dr-gonzalez.com/jco_rebuttal.htm, some time ago we posted a 13,000 word document that describes the many failings of the study. I have also posted the NIH letter stating the data had no meaning, and a link to the OHRP findings of mismanagement. I offered for NBC scrutiny a copy of the 750-page manuscript I am preparing for publication that tells the story of the clinical trial fully and honestly, but Ms. Schmitz declined the offer. And Dateline made the choice not to ambush the Principal Investigator, whom Ms. Schmitz told me refused to talk on camera – though they did fly a team to question Joan.
I could go on, but I suspect I’ve gone on long enough. Anyone still trust the mainstream media?
Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D.