Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Medical practioners bear great responsibility

This letter was published in the March 25, 2004, edition of the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper.

Cancer cure? Don't bet on it

Medical practioners bear great responsibility

To the Editor:

We read with interest Monday’s report on Dr. Joseph Gold and his advocacy of hydrazine sulfate as a treatment for cancer (March 15, 2004, Health Notes by Amber Smith, CNY Doctor Fights Cancer Establishment). While the inclusion of the American Cancer Society's three questions for evaluating cancer treatments was helpful, having Dr. Gold provide the answers was not. Anyone can say their treatment is effective and that findings confirming their claim have been published in peer-reviewed journals. But is it accurate?

Before many studies had been done, there was cause to think hydrazine sulfate might be effective against cancer. Reputable doctors and scientists studied the issue, first in animals and then in people. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out. This is often true for anti-cancer compounds that seem promising in theory, but don't work in fact. Cancer is a very complicated disease.

On Dr. Stephen Barrett’s Web site on alternative medical practices, there is a section on alternative therapies for cancer including an article on hydrazine sulfate. This article, with extensive footnotes, explains how it acts and what the studies have shown.

An excerpt from the article is instructive:
"In June 1994, three papers [published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and the European Journal of Surgical Oncology] described the effects of adding HS [hydrazine sulfate] to the chemotherapeutic regimens of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer and leukemia, advanced colorectal cancer, and with newly diagnosed non-small-cell lung cancer. All three placebo-controlled double-blinded clinical trials yielded results leading authors to conclude: 'This study demonstrates that there is no benefit from the addition of HS to an effective cytotoxic regimen.'"

While Dr. Gold can cite numerous studies of hydrazine sulfate, evaluating these studies is something most people cannot do. So, although it is true that studies of hydrazine sulfate have been conducted, and the results have been published in peer-reviewed journals, the evaluation of these studies show that hydrazine sulfate is not an effective cancer treatment.

Stories about near-miraculous cures for cancer are moving, and to those who are desperate to believe, convincing. However, the great vulnerability of cancer patients and their families only imposes a greater ethical burden on medical practitioners to be certain of their facts. Those who are challenged by the overwhelming and frightening possibility of death must be able to trust their doctors to be honest about what they are facing and to tell them what their choices truly are.

Cancer patients seeking comprehensive and reliable information may wish to visit the National Cancer Institute website at

Lisa Goodlin, Syracuse
Janet Factor, Ithaca

Lisa Goodlin is the founder and president of Central New York Skeptics, a community organization that promotes science and critical thinking. Janet Factor is the group’s Ithaca representative.


This piece received a runner-up award in this year's Citizen Sane contest, and will be published in Skeptical Briefs.