Sunday, May 13, 2007

$25,000 for what?!

A local Ithaca man who has been recently diagnosed with rectal cancer is trying to raise money for an "alternative" cancer treatment called the "Gerson Method." The article in the Ithaca Journal about this story is not very well written, so it's hard to tell if he's also planning to use conventional cancer treatment methods like chemotherapy or radiation therapy. (I certainly hope he is!) This alternative method requires him to go to the Baha Nutri Care clinic and pay $25,000 for the privilege, so he and his wife have organized a benefit tonight to help him pay his expenses.

So, what is this "Gerson Method" and does it have any legitimacy in the treatment of cancer? According to the article, it is a nutritional method that uses coffee enemas, "which are said to stimulate immune functioning." The passive voice is a wonderful thing - who is saying that they stimulate immune functioning and is there any evidence to support this assertion? Clearly, the reporter responsible for this article did not do any research to find out what this method was and whether it was reputable, but as I found out quickly, it's not too hard to find out that this is a wholly dubious treatment.

From what I can tell from a rather cursory websearch, this method will not cure rectal cancer, and if it is used instead of the usual methods, it will endanger the man's life by postponing effective treatment. A physician blogger known as Orac tells a sad tale about a patient who came to him with orange skin. It turns out he had been diagnosed with rectal cancer, but rather than having surgery, had begun a nutritional treatment that involved coffee enemas and megadoses of carrot juice (hence, the orange skin). His treatment was based on a program designed by Dr. Max Gerson.

Orac describes this treatment as follows:
The basis of this "therapy," developed first by Max Gerson, MD back in the 1940's and 1950's, then continued by William Kelley, DDS in the 1960's, and still practiced today by Nicholas Gonzalez, MD, is a belief that all cancers come from a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes, which supposedly allows cancer cells to grow. By the "concept" behind this, cancer grows and metastasizes because there is lack of cancer-digesting enzymes in the body. The solution is, supposedly, is to get pancreatic enzymes to the place where cancer is growing, in a concentration high enough to stop growth, but not so high as to cause too rapid production of "toxins" from tumor breakdown. Consequently, the treatment consists of "detoxification" with coffee enemas, which supposedly help flush the waste products of tumor cell breakdown out of the body; dietary manipulations; ingestion of pancreatic enzymes; and megadoses of supplements and vitamins, like carrot juice. The original Gerson diet required more than a gallon a day of juices made from fruits, vegetables, and raw calf's liver, but there are many variants.

This treatment does not do anything for rectal cancer, and because the patient had postponed surgery for over a year, by the time he came back to Orac the tumor had increased greatly in size and the operation required to treat it was much more difficult, and his chance of surviving the cancer was much lower. I hope that the Ithaca man does not postpone an appropriate cancer treatment out of the mistaken hope that the Gerson treatment will actually help him.

An exhaustive debunking of the Gerson diet and its coffee enemas can be found at Unconventional Cancer Treatments: Dietary Treatments. This is taken from Unconventional Cancer Treatments, published in September 1990 by the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, pp. 44-51. A more recent source of information can be found on the website of the American Cancer Society: Gerson Therapy.


  1. Much like the Ithaca Journal article on the subject, this blog entry contains little or no information on the Gerson method. The man in question has been told that he must have his lower intestine removed and a colostomy installed. How much would that cost? Probably $25,000 or more. So, the title is apt, "$25,000 for what?"

    After viewing the documentary Dying to Have Known on the method (never mentioned in this blog, but mentioned in the Journal article) I conclude that the method has been very poorly investigated by the medical establishment.

    If the man's cancer is cured, no doubt Dr. Stephen Barrett and his ilk will claim that he never had cancer, or that it went away by itself. The former explanation is an indication of the decrepit nature of the medical establishment. They perform the initial diagnosis and then claim that it was wrong. If it is wrong, then who would take responsibility for literally taking a man apart? Not those doctors, since they would have destroyed the evidence with their "cure".

  2. Furthermore, the article cited above that purportedly debunks the Gerson method does no such thing. It describes the few feeble attempts that have been made to evaluate the method. There are no decisive conclusions given in the article, except that patients on the regimen experienced "subjective improvements". Studies are ongoing in Austria and elsewhere, but do not strictly follow the Gerson method.

  3. I did not know that the man concerned was told that his lower intestine would have to be removed, since the information is not in the Ithaca Journal article, so I conclude that you must know him personally. I do not - I am going by what I read in the newspaper.

    The Office of Technology Assessment book that I referenced is available on line for anyone to read about the Gerson method. (I did not feel the need to reproduce the entire text). If someone wants to read the promotional website of the Gerson Institute, they may find it on their own - I don't wish to give them any links from my website. The movie "Dying to Have Known," from what I could see from the information available on the web about it, was made by someone who is a convinced believer in the Gerson method - this is not a scientific investigation into the method.

    Yes, I can believe that having the lower intestine removed and a colostomy installed would cost at least $25,000, but from everything I read from reputable sources (including the American Cancer Society website), this would give the man in question far more likelihood of survival than an unproven nutritional treatment.