Cancer: A New Breakthrough, by Virginia Wuerthele-Caspe Livingston, M.D., Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1974, 269 pp., $8.95.
After decades of research cancer still remains a brutal killer, the second leading cause of death in the United States. The traditional so-called cancer "cures" will not prevent cancer from killing a predicted 355,000 Americans in 1975.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI), which favors chemotherapy in its research, has come up with only 42 anticancer agents in nineteen years of research. At an annual cost of about $75 million NCI tests some 30,000 compounds each year, about three of which become drugs for human use. The other two orthodox cancer therapies are surgery and radiation. While radiation techniques have improved considerably in recent years, neither of these approaches is very effective as a "cure."
In the less than heartening words of NCI director, Dr. Frank Rauscher, Jr., "of the one hundred cancers that afflict man, about 15 percent of these can be treated extremely well, to the point of at least 50 percent five-year survivals." The extent of the failure of traditional cancer cures makes the reluctance of NCI to test "unorthodox" cancer therapies, such as Laetrile, hard to understand.
Until a couple of years ago immunotherapy was ignored by all but a few cancer researchers. Since the eminent immunologist, Dr. Robert Good, began experimenting with immunotherapy at the Sloan-Kettering Foundation, NCI and other parts of the cancer establishment have hailed immunotherapy as an effective approach to cancer.
As early as the late 1940's a group of microbiologists and physicians in this country were testing vaccine cures on tumor-ridden chickens. One of the doctors was Virginia Wuerthele-Caspe Livingston, M.D., who describes the opposition to immunology in her book, Cancer: A New Breakthrough. Dr. Livingston comments on an immunology congress she attended in Antwerp in 1958:
All of these distinguished scientists had been carrying on research in the biological and immunological treatment of cancer for years. It is only now that the United States is beginning to catch up. Because of the suppressive action of the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration, our people have not had the advantage of European research. Also, the deliberate suppression of our work in this country has set cancer research back a number of decades.
In California, where Dr. Livingston practices medicine, all but the traditional cancer therapies—chemotherapy, surgery and radiation—are banned. In order to treat cancer patients with autogeneous vaccine, she must approach not the cancer but the "underlying chronic infection," a procedure which places the doctor in the position of circumventing bureaucratic edicts for the good of the patient.
Several doctors have been arrested in California for using Laetrile, the anti-cancer therapy derived from apricot pits. Those who wish to use unorthodox therapies must file an application to be approved under Section 505 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
"When such applications are filed," writes Dr. Livingston, "if there is disagreement as to efficacy of the proposed medication, there can be years that pass before such treatment can be approved. Therefore, such an application opens the door for the absolute regulation of treatment regardless of the harmlessness or lack of toxicity of the product."
The key idea behind immunology is to bolster the body's natural defense mechanism or immune system to the point where it can eliminate cancer cells in the same manner that it would fight other "invaders" such as tuberculosis. Dr. Livingston takes a dim view of cobalt and chemotherapeutic cancer treatments because of their suppressive effect on the body's immune system. Sharply critical of NCI's bias, she writes:
In thirteen years the National Cancer Institute has spent five hundred million dollars and has tested 170,000 poisonous drugs for possible use in the fight against cancer. The results have been zero except in a few rare types of cancer.
While not endorsing Laetrile as a cancer cure, Dr. Livingston is a strong advocate of the cancer patient's right to freedom of choice when it comes to cancer therapy. Because Laetrile has been banned since 1963 in this country Americans seeking a Laetrile cure must travel to Mexico where Dr. Ernesto Contreras administers this inexpensive agent in his Tijuana clinic. "It is no wonder that our people flee from this country to Mexico and Europe where they can obtain a number of non-toxic and therapeutic agents not licensed in the United States. They are like leaves driven before the furious hurricane of cancer, seeking relief from pain," writes Dr. Livingston.
Despite a government Master Plan for cancer research and a dedication to discovery (which President Nixon had equated with the moon mission), there seems to be little attempt to synthesize the available knowledge on cancer. Instead, the jealous advocates of certain forms of cancer therapy are involved in power politics. Because some 40 percent of NCI cancer research grants are government controlled there is an element of rigidity in much cancer research which may preclude the serendipity that often precedes discovery.
Dr. Livingston advocates pooling the facts but adds that "unfortunately much of what is known is erroneous and much that is valuable, constructive and productive, has been systematically repressed and interdicted." The adamant manner in which certain cancer treatments are defended and others rejected seems out of place given the still mysterious nature of cancer.
"Is the government to dictate to us what harmless substances we may or may not eat?" asks Dr. Livingston. "Must the cancer patient be forced to die in pain according to the edicts issued from Washington while we suffer the morbidity and destructive effects of the officially and bureaucratically approved chemotherapeutic agents?"
As long as government controls the course of cancer research the answer remains "yes." Strict FDA regulations with regard to drug research have effectively priced most of the drug companies out of the cancer research market. Thus, government ban, bias and restriction have structured the research on an unknown to the point of stifling it. The gap between scientific revelation and government acceptance was more than two decades wide in the case of immunology. We may expect the same lack of dynamism in other areas of government run cancer research.
Solveig Eggerz is working on a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Catholic University. Formerly associated with Private Practice, Ms. Eggerz is now a contributing editor of Human Events, and a regular contributor to the Washington Star-News.