February 02, 2017


The Cancer Revolution: A Groundbreaking Program to Reverse and Prevent Cancer. By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. Da Capo. $25.99.

     What should the penalty be for doctors who knowingly withhold cures form patients, dooming them to a long and agonizing struggle with a curable disease – a battle that eventually ends in avoidable death? Proponents of “alternative,” “holistic,” “integrative” and “naturopathic” approaches to deadly diseases such as cancer – which is actually a constellation of diseases, not a single one – cleverly avoid answering this question. But it is highly germane – because if there in fact exist approaches to living that are certain to “reverse and prevent cancer,” as the subtitle of Leigh Erin Connealy’s book says, then surely it is a criminal matter, or at the very least one worthy of loss of medical license, for a doctor not to deliver these “proven” cures and prevention strategies. However, like every other purveyor of non-traditional medical approaches to serious disease, Connealy fails to issue a clarion call for de-licensing, prison or other punishment for doctors who, sworn to care for and cure to the best of their ability, fail to “reverse and prevent cancer” in the “proven” ways that Connealy puts forth.

     The reality, of course, is that none of the methods in The Cancer Revolution or other works of this type is proven to “reverse and prevent cancer,” and authors like Connealy, one and all, are trading in the fear and worry that inevitably accompany a cancer diagnosis, making a nice living for themselves by suggesting that they have solutions that the medical profession as a whole – whether from venality, profit orientation, being in collusion with pharmaceutical firms, or being involved in some other anti-wellness conspiracy – fails to supply. Taking advantage of patients this way makes for good profits from books and “alternative” treatment centers – Connealy’s is called the Cancer Center for Healing. But all this self-proclaimed certainty is, at the very least, as unseemly as advocates of non-traditional approaches to disease claim traditional medicine to be.

     What is so irritating about the anti-traditional-medicine claims is that there is no non-commercial reason for them. In general, doctors treating cancer with chemotherapy, radiation and other standard approaches not only acknowledge the value of supplementary use of nutritional and lifestyle changes, but also encourage them actively. And many professed opponents of traditional approaches to cancer – including Connealy – actually acknowledge the importance of traditional medicine, saying that it is not the whole answer or the only answer but that it is a necessary component of cancer treatment. The two sides are not really two sides after all – except at their fringes, they represent differences in emphasis rather than exclusionary approaches that demonize anyone with whom they disagree.

     Seen in that way, The Cancer Revolution, despite its vastly overhyped title and subtitle, could be viewed as a sensible, useful and potentially very helpful aid in cancer treatment, although it scarcely offers a cure or a guaranteed remission. But Connealy insists it is more than that – it really is a revolution, one known only to her and other cognoscenti. It is extremely hard to accept this. In 2015, a notorious-in-some-quarters scientific meta-analysis of cancer studies discovered that some two-thirds of cancers result from chance – random cellular mutations about which people can do nothing – and that only about one-third are preventable through lifestyle modifications such as avoiding smoking (lung cancers) and being careful about sun exposure (skin cancers). Unsurprisingly, the publication of the carefully peer-reviewed study provoked howls of outrage and numerous hastily assembled counter-studies – there is a huge “cancer industry” out there, and the advocates of non-traditional approaches are a big part of it. A lot of the objections to the scientific analysis proffered notions of known contributory factors to diseases (including cancer) as underlying causes – a good keep-the-money-flowing approach, since so many of these factors are unavoidable and therefore shade into the realm of “bad luck.” Connealy, for example, mentions “excessive exposure to electromagnetic fields” (you will know the exposure is excessive if you get cancer); “geopathic stress” from “energies within the Earth that are created by underground cavitations, streams, and other geological features” (completely unavoidable); “foci infections,” which are “concentrated and localized pockets of infection that don’t show up on routine lab tests” (a recipe for expensive tests, including “alternative” ones, or unending fear); industrial toxins (“ubiquitous in our air, food, and water supply,” and thus unavoidable); and so on. And then there are the equally ubiquitous factors that go with living in a modern First World country, earning a living and raising a family: Connealy warns that “to prevent or fight cancer, you must also resolve the stress and emotional conflicts in your life.”

     Despite all this, “preventing cancer doesn’t need to be complicated,” asserts Connealy. You need specific tests that she recommends to find propensity for cancer, not actual cancer. You need the specific approach to whole-body health that Connealy advocates. You need “groundbreaking cancer treatments” such as “autohemotherapy” (taking blood, exposing it to ultraviolet light and ozone, and putting it back) and “intravenous curcumin therapy” (getting this component of turmeric not as a spice but intravenously). You need nutritional guidance and unending adherence to a diet filled with “anticancer vegetables,” “‘clean’ animal protein” (free-range and free of hormones of antibiotics and, as Connealy does not say, the most expensive available), “green vegetable drinks made from such foods as wheatgrass and nonstarchy vegetables,” and so forth. You also need detoxifying treatments such as coffee enemas, “liver flush cleanses” and “EDTA chelation therapy” using a specific synthetic amino acid. And of course you need exercise, an end to stress (never mind the possibility that these treatments may themselves send your stress levels through the roof), meditation, Qigong and Tai Chi and aromatherapy and laughter and a specific “transpersonal coaching and beneficial strategy that I would highly recommend.” Throw in a hot bath every night while you’re at it. Get lots of sleep and make sure it is restful – practice “proper sleep hygiene” (but don’t let the requirements raise your stress level), assemble a “successful support system” to guide you to wellness, and on and on and on and on.

     Connealy omits any mention of the financial cost and amount of time needed to do everything she recommends – and her recommendations are so enormously time-consuming and so different from most people’s everyday lives (and so far outside many people’s budgets) that she can always claim, if her approach fails, that the patient did not do enough of what she says or did not do it with sufficient exactitude. Unsurprisingly, Connealy’s practice is in alternative-medicine-loving California – she neglects to explain how people who live in, say, Kansas or Alabama might implement her extensive recommendations. Indeed, the time commitment that Connealy insists is necessary is really extraordinary: her step-by-step, day-by-day outline of what to do to be part of her “Cancer Revolution” is off-putting in the extreme. One single day, for example, includes five to 20 minutes of “oil pulling,” plus tongue scraping, plus drinking eight to 16 ounces of lemon or vinegar water, plus doing a coffee enema, plus “30 minutes of yoga, Qigong, stretching, walking, or another exercise,” plus “30 minutes of meditation, journaling, or prayer,” plus taking two specific capsules – all before breakfast. The rest of that single day is planned just as precisely.

     Add the extensiveness, precision, and time requirements of Connealy’s ideas to the enormous stressors these gigantic lifestyle requirements will likely produce – coupled with the insistence on stress reduction – and throw in the substantial cost associated with many of her recommendations, and what you have in The Cancer Revolution is a recipe for failure. Not in every case – Connealy cites anecdotal examples of the success of her approach with specific patients – but in a large, large number of cases. And this does not even get into the issue of the highly specific food-purchase and food-preparation requirements that are integral to Connealy’s ideas. People diagnosed with serious cancers (not all cancers are serious or at serious stages) will understandably grasp at any straw that holds out hope, no matter how strange, off-putting, costly, hard to comprehend, or scientifically shaky – hence, for example, the great excitement over using peach and apricot pits to produce laetrile and “cure” cancer, especially in the 1970s. Laetrile sometimes worked, which is no surprise: the placebo effect produces improvement, or even cure, in up to 30% of people given completely inactive substances. The Cancer Revolution includes some sounder-than-laetrile science, all jumbled together with standard elements advocated by non-traditional health practitioners (specified dietary regimes, specified forms of stress reduction, specified daily life regimens). Some desperate people will benefit from what Connealy offers. Whether that makes her approach “groundbreaking,” or a solution of any sort to people’s desire “to reverse and prevent cancer,” is another matter altogether. But the book is carefully written to insulate Connealy from any potential action against her if people try to incorporate her ideas into their lives and nevertheless find her prescription ineffective.

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