Continuing Education in the Toxin Haunted World of the Cancer Control Society

William M. London

The Cancer Control Society (CCS) describes itself on its website as “a non-profit organization, dependent upon donations for its mission: to prevent and control cancer and other diseases through Nutrition [sic] and Non-Toxic [sic] Therapies [sic].” This mission may sound noble, but a close look at CCS reveals that it enthusiastically promotes approaches to health care that are based on simplistic and/or discredited theories and treatments that either (1) haven’t been shown to be safe and effective for an intended purpose, or (2) have failed under proper testing.

Sheraton Universal
Entrance to the Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention, which served as space for a few of the exhibits.

Nevertheless, what CCS promotes as the “life-saving information” it provides often seduces consumers, journalists, and health professionals. CCS’s misinformation outlets include its annual convention, annual symposium for doctors, annual tours of clinics in Tijuana, recommended films, “PREVENTION DIET” sheet, exhibits at various health expos, “NON-TOXIC CANCER THERAPIES, DOCTORS, & TESTS DIRECTORY,” and “DIRECTORY OF NUTRITION-MINDED DOCTORS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.” People who don’t realize why it is problematic to draw conclusions about treatments from testimonials can be misled by making contacts from CCS’s list of “PATIENTS TREATED WITH NON-TOXIC CANCER THERAPIES & NUTRITION.”

CCS presented its “43rd Annual Cancer Convention” during the three days of Labor Day weekend 2015 at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, California. An advertisement in the Los Angeles Times described the convention as “Prevention and control of cancer and other diseases through Nutrition, Tests & Alternative Therapies” and “* Over 40 Speakers * 5 Movies * 80 Exhibits * CEU’s for Nurses & Dentists *” with the public invited to attend the convention for $40 per day. I attended the 2015 convention on Saturday and Sunday and all three days of the annual conventions in 2009 and 2013.

Conference Interior
Many of the empty seats for this presentation could have been filled by conventioneers visiting exhibits.

Continuing Education?

The convention program indicated that CCS is an approved provider (#5688) of continuing education units (CEUs) for nurses and that, for a fee of $135, nurses could earn twenty-seven contact hours of CEUs for attending the convention. I checked the website of the California Department of Consumer Affairs and found that CCS is indeed licensed as a continuing education provider for nurses (through April 30, 2016).

Here’s how the California Board of Registered Nursing describes acceptable course content for continuing education for license renewal:

The content of all courses of continuing education must be relevant to the practice of nursing. Learning experiences are expected to enhance the knowledge of the registered nurse at a level above that required for licensure. Courses must be related to the scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing, or be related to direct and/or indirect patient/client care.

Courses related to the scientific knowledge for the practice of nursing include basic and advanced courses in the physical, social, and behavioral sciences, as well as advanced nursing in general or specialty areas. Content which includes the application of scientific knowledge to patient care in addition to advanced nursing courses may include courses in related areas, e.g. human sexuality; death, dying, and grief; foreign languages (conversational); therapeutic interpersonal relationship skills; pharmacology; and those related to specialty areas of nursing practice.

Courses in nursing administration, management, education, research or other functional areas of nursing relating to indirect patient/client care would be acceptable.

I don’t see how any of the CCS convention presentations fit the description of acceptable course content. The only speaker identified as a registered nurse on the convention program is Jenny Hrbacek, author of Cancer Free! Are you Sure?, a book in which she promotes non-validated testing such as the “Greek test” for detecting cancer supposedly years before standard methods of screening and for supposedly improved monitoring for cancer recurrence.

The Board of Registered Nursing identifies eight types of unacceptable continuing education courses, including “courses designed for lay people.” Since the convention was advertised to attract a general audience and most attendees (and some speakers) each year are lay people, shouldn’t that disqualify convention attendance as a continuing education activity for nursing? A reasonable person might think so, but this is the board that previously approved a sham continuing education course on “Feng Shui for Home Care Providers” consisting of furniture moving, feng shui, snake oil, smoke and mirrors, seeing of illusory patterns, divination through human entrails, and “Cannupiary Flexibility” (a meaningless term made up to reveal the lax CEU standards of the board).

CCS’s convention program also indicated that CCS is an approved provider (#4323) of CEUs for dentists who, for a $125 fee, could earn twenty-four contact hours for attending the convention. I checked CCS’s registered provider status on the website of the Dental Board of California and found that it had expired on August 31, 2015. The CCS registered provider license status was labeled “Incomplete,” meaning: “Licensee is attempting to renew. Renewal is incomplete due to incomplete continuing education, failure to sign renewal, or other minor omissions.”

From what I can tell, the bar for becoming a registered provider of continuing education for dentists is set low in California. The application includes a series of simple questions. The most challenging question is:

Will all courses offered be a means of an orderly learning experience in the area of dental and medical health, preventive dental services, diagnosis and treatment planning, clinical procedures, basic health sciences, dental practice administration, or the Dental Practice Act and other laws specifically related to dental practice which is designed to directly enhance the licensee’s knowledge, skill or competence in the provision of service to patients or the community?

I don’t see how the question could have been honestly answered in the affirmative for the program description of the 2015 CCS convention.

The flyer for CCS’s annual “DOCTOR’S [sic] SYMPOSIUM featuring NON-TOXIC ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES, THERAPEUTIC NUTRITION & TESTS” on Tuesday, September 8 indicates a registration fee of $75 including lunch, includes the words “Public Invited!,” and states that the symposium is approved for six CE credits for both dentists and nurses. None of the sixteen listed speakers on the flyer is a dentist, and the only nurse on the list is Hrbacek.

Tijuana-Style Continuing Education

Another flyer indicated that nurses and dentists could earn fifteen CE units at a fee of $125 by taking one of three bus trips (September 9, September 19, or November 14) for tours in Tijuana, Mexico, of clinics treating cancer, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. The advertised cost of just a tour is $100 and would include visits to five of seven listed clinics. The flyer is clearly designed to attract potential patients and not just health care professionals to visit the clinics. It reads:

  • Before disease strikes… discover your options!
  • Alternative Therapies in action!
  • Learn why Tijuana has become the Mecca for cancer victims!

The flyer appropriately likens a trip for treatment to any of the Tijuana clinics on the tour to a religious pilgrimage. Both require faith, wishful thinking, and inattention—if not obliviousness—to healthy skepticism. Claims of the importance of God or spirituality to healing are marketing messages used by Tijuana clinics and are common applause lines uttered by speakers at CCS conventions. As I concluded recently, “…healing claims made for several of the most celebrated [CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine, modalities] are religiously based, though misleadingly marketed as if they were science-based.” In the contrarian universe of CAM, with its modalities that need not actually complement validated therapies or serve as viable alternatives to them, healing doesn’t necessarily mean an objective reduction in the severity of an ailment; it often means the perception of reaching “a complementary union of mind, body and spirit.” If you are bold enough to challenge CAM devotees regarding the factual basis they claim to have for their beliefs, don’t be surprised if they become offended the way worshippers of Abrahamic religions often react to arguments that God is a failed hypothesis or a delusion.

The Tijuana tour flyer lists each of the clinics/hospitals along with a name of a therapy offered. None of these therapies have been established as effective treatments of cancers, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or any other diseases that are supposedly remediated by “holistic” or “integrative” healing. The clinics/hospitals and their featured therapies are:

  • Bio-Medical Center features the Hoxsey treatment consisting of various concoctions and a restricted diet. The treatment is promoted in a video shown on the Tijuana bus trips.
  • Rubio Cancer Center features Rife (a low-energy electrical device developed in the 1920s that is claimed to kill or disable diseased cells) and “immune vaccine” treatments. Although development of cancer vaccines has been an active area of serious cancer immunotherapy research for decades, the only FDA-approved cancer treatment vaccine is sipuleucel-T, which was found to increase survival of patients with a specific type of advanced prostate cancer by several months. The American Cancer Society notes that the process for creating autologous dendritic cell vaccines—the type of cancer vaccine promoted at Rubio Cancer Center and other Tijuana clinics—is “complex and expensive.”
  • Two hospitals in the Tijuana area offer the “Gerson-Plus” Therapy promoted by medical doctor and naturopath Dan Rogers, which includes the Gerson therapy of diet, supplementation, and enemas of coffee and/or chamomile tea in combination with a couple of dozen other nonstandard interventions. Hyperthermia is also mentioned on the flyer. The Gerson-Plus website indicates that the type of hyperthermia used involves raising the temperature of the full body. Whole-body hyperthermia is not a standard method of cancer treatment. According to the American Cancer Society: “Hyperthermia is a promising way to improve cancer treatment, but it is largely an experimental technique at this time.” Experimental does not mean validated or ready for commercialization!
  • Stella Maris Clinic and Oasis of Hope Hospital feature laetrile and so-called metabolic therapy. In the Fall of 2003, Joe Nickell, senior research fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, investigated Oasis of Hope and reported his findings in the July/August 2004 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Among the promotional materials he discussed was a video in which Dr. Francisco Contreras (the current facility director, president, and chairman) claimed: “In this hospital the medical director is Jesus Christ, and that makes a difference.”
  • International BioCare features “multi-phasic.” That simply means offering a wide range of offbeat treatments, many of which are available at the other Tijuana clinics. Among International BioCare’s treatments are ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy and supposedly “advanced oxidative therapies” including ozone and hyperbaric oxygen.
  • Hope 4 Cancer features, in addition to metabolic therapy, Poly-MVA, the most frequently touted product I encountered at the 2013 and 2015 conventions. According to a brochure distributed by AMARC Enterprises, which markets the product and was a CCS convention exhibitor, “Poly-MVA is created through an innovative, patented, and proprietary process whereby palladium (a rare mineral) is chemically bound to alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant involved in cellular protection.” AMARC describes Poly-MVA as creating “a synergy, action and function not found in any other dietary supplement. This formulation is designed to provide energy for the body’s systems by changing the electrical potential of cells and increasing the charge density of DNA within the cell.” Hope 4 Cancer’s website says: “Palladium Lipoic Acid (LAPd) complex serves as a powerful treatment to any kind of cancer. Lot [sic] of research has been done on the subject and results prove that LAPd complex when taken as a nutritional supplement like Poly-MVA acts as a cancer deterrent.”
Al Sanchez, Jr. AMARC Enterprises CEO, at the Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention.

Such claims for Poly-MVA are illegal in the United States. On December 11, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to AMARC objecting to disease-related claims on its website for Poly-MVA and Poly-MVA for Pets. When disease-related claims are made for products marketed as dietary supplements, the FDA regards the products as drugs, which require FDA approval for marketing. It appears that the disease-related claims mentioned in the warning letter have been removed from AMARC’s website, but there are still audio recordings available on the site discussing the use of Poly-MVA in treatment of prostate cancer and other diseases. Even if those recordings were removed from the site, I don’t see how a product that supposedly works as an antioxidant and is said to require a proprietary process for chemical bonding and is apparently not a naturally occurring nutrient or herbal chemical can be legally marketed as a dietary supplement in the United States.

AMARC advertises an eight-ounce bottle of Poly-MVA for $185.00 and recommends as many as twelve teaspoons of it per day “until patients get the desired effects they are seeking.” Considering the lack of evidence of effectiveness of palladium-alpha-lipoic acid complex in treating cancer, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV/AIDS, psoriasis, and systemic lupus erythematosus, Poly-MVA customers should be prepared for long waits—if they’re lucky—for desired effects. One of the most famous promoters of Poly-MVA was Shari Lieberman, whose lecture at the Cancer Control Society’s 2007 convention was about “Poly-MVA Successful Case Histories.” Lieberman was fifty-one in 2009 when she died of metastatic breast cancer. Two audio recordings of her touting Poly-MVA were available on AMARC’s site in September 2015.

How can a state board for any health profession permit continuing education units to be awarded for visits to clinics offering services claimed to alter the course of disease based on wishful thinking, faith, and half-baked biological rationales rather than meeting rigorous clinical testing standards?

Fear and Loathing of ‘Toxins’

One of the main seductive, but misleading, messages promoted by advocates of CAM such as the Tijuana clinics and most of the CCS convention speakers and exhibitors is that our health depends on use of various products and services to (1) supposedly remove so-called toxins from our bodies and (2) come as close as possible to eliminating our exposure to various chemical, physical, and biological agents that fringe scientists claim are serious health threats.

Charlotte Gerson at the Cancer Control Society’s 2009 convention.

In the contrarian world of CAM, so-called toxins of special concern are usually unspecified synthetic chemicals of modern living, including usually unspecified pollutants. However, the notion that “synthetic” means worrisome and “natural” means safer is misguided. And while it’s proper to use the term toxicants to refer to poisonous doses of synthetic chemicals, toxins are all-natural poisonous substances produced by biological processes of plants, animals, and microorganisms.

In one of the video excerpts of previous CCS talks by Gerson Therapy promoter Charlotte Gerson shown at the 2015 convention, Gerson said: “We must avoid all toxins and poisons.” In another excerpt, she said, “Animal proteins are the number one carcinogen in the world.” The notion that animal proteins are carcinogens has been popularized by physiologist T. Colin Campbell, but it’s farfetched and based on overinterpretation of population studies.

Lorraine Day, MD, at the Cancer Control Society’s 2009 convention.

At CCS’s 2015 convention, both Lorraine Day, MD, and Charles Majors, a chiropractor and author of the book The Cancer Killers—The Cause Is the Cure!, expressed a common CAM teaching that I previously described as the cancer-is-the-symptom ploy. In the topsy-turvy perspective of Day, Majors, and, apparently, many CCS conventioneers, it isn’t cancer that makes you sick; you’re sick already and that’s why you get cancer.

According to Day, a sick body causes the tumor, and when you get the sick body well the tumor will go away. The promotional literature for her DVD Diseases Don’t Just Happen! is subtitled We Give Them to Ourselves One Day at a Time By the Way We Eat and Live. Of course, the reality is not so simple.

Charles Majors, DC, at the Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention.

“You’ve been sick for years and then you get cancer,” Majors said. He takes an extreme view of the popular notion of the wisdom of the body claiming: “The body will always do the right thing at the right time.” Thus, developing cancer is supposedly what a body sometimes needs to do in response to a toxic onslaught. He also claimed: “Every cancer at every stage is curable.” One of his cancer killing strategies is to take deep breaths throughout the day to provide a happy home for good cells and an unsuitable home for cancer cells (the same thinking behind discredited oxygenation treatments). Another strategy he recommends is taking Poly-MVA. Majors insisted that inflammation is the key to all disease and is caused by bad fats, toxicity, common allergies, gluten, and food sensitivities. On his “Be a Cancer Killer” website, he advises: “Ditch the plastic in your life.” His book The Cancer Killers—The Cause Is the Cure! supposedly offers the nutrition, fitness, and detoxification advice needed for curing cancers, but I won’t be adding it to my personal shopping list.

Day and Majors weren’t the only CCS speakers demonizing various consumer products and modern technologies. Talks at CCS baselessly promoted or hyped as health threatening: pesticides in food, acidic foods, genetically modified organisms as food sources, Roundup, plastics, coffee (when not used in enemas), foods from animals, vaccines to prevent infectious diseases, pasteurized milk, close proximity to microwave ovens or foods cooked in them, fluoridated water or toothpaste, MSG, gluten, grains, aluminum cans or foil, aspartame, saccharin, sugar, and even polyester clothing.

Anti-GMO Exhibit at the Cancer Control Society’s 2009 convention.

Oram Miller at the Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention.

Oram Miller, who presents himself as one of 120 Certified Building Biology® Environmental Consultants, referred the audience to his online slide presentation that promotes extreme precautionary measures to avoid exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from common sources such as compact fluorescent lamps, electric blankets, induction cooktops, Wi-Fi, and cell phones. Miller claims, but provides no evidence, that:

  • EMFs interfere with healing and treatment from health care practitioners
  • Most people improve with reduction in EMF exposure

Tulio Simoncini at the Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention.

Nature wasn’t completely excluded from the anti-toxin propaganda at CCS. Renegade physician Tulio Simoncini and Doug Kaufmann, host of the Know the Cause television program both promoted the false notion that cancer is a fungus.

Some CCS speakers even presented negative emotions as toxic. Carolyn Gross, who works as a patient advocate at the Rubio Cancer Center, showed a slide with the title “All Health Begins in the Mind.” She claimed that women “have eight times more blood flow to the right emotional side of our brain,” and, based on psychoneuroimmunology, positive thinking stimulates peptides, which boost t-cell production and help the immune system to improve health. Gross’s biography indicates that she has BA degree in home economics and nutrition and “became a licensed massage therapist from the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing in San Diego, California.”

Part of Rubio’s Cancer Center’s 2015 exhibit featuring Carolyn Gross.

It’s unlikely that Gross’s training prepared her to appreciate that claims for psychological interventions intended to improve immune system function and improve survival in cancer have been repeatedly debunked. Promoting unwarranted concern about negative emotions may serve to add to the distress of those already distressed patients who have difficulty seeing the bright side of life.

Perhaps the most bizarre of the many toxin alarms I heard from CCS speakers came from Donald Jolly-Gabriel. “Sugar is the most evil demon from the deepest darkest pit of hell,” he declared. I guess that’s not a surprising statement coming from someone described in the booklet of CCS speaker biographies as having “received his Degree [sic] from California Christian University, Los Angeles,” and as holding “Degrees [sic] in Psychology, Sacred Theology, Behavioral Sciences, Business Administration and is certified in Hyperbaric Oxygen Medicine from Southern California School of International Studies.” California Christian University is not listed in the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. The only degrees it offers are in theology. My online search for evidence that the Southern California School of International Studies actually exists was unsuccessful.

Donald Jolly-Gabriel was visited by audience members after his talk at Cancer Control Society’s 2015 convention.

Nevertheless, “Donald Jolly-Gabriel, PHD [sic]” is presented as a member of the practitioner team with expertise in hyperbaric oxygen on the website of the Center for New Medicine (formerly the South Coast Center for New Medicine) in Irvine, California, which offers services I have come to expect from Tijuana clinics. The clinic’s director is Leigh Erin Connealy, MD, whose activities I discussed last year. She along with the South Coast Center were named in a lawsuit in 2008 on the grounds of negligent hiring and retention of an incompetent employee, a dentist employed by the Center. Dr. Connealy and her clinic settled for a modest undisclosed sum before the case was tried. In 2010, another patient sued the same parties and others. After visiting the center in 2007 for bio-identical hormones, the patient was referred to a dentist who convinced her that she needed removal of sixteen amalgam fillings and two teeth, which resulted in infections requiring additional surgery, pain, and difficulty chewing. Also in 2010, Dr. Connealy was named as a defendant in a suit filed by Pamela McGreevy, a California woman who, among other things, had been tested with a ZYTO, a computerized device promoted for determining what dietary supplements, herbs, or homeopathic products might be useful. The suit stated that Dr. Connealy had engaged in negligent misrepresentation by telling McGreevy that ZYTO’s limbic stress assessment (LSA) test would identify “stressors, such as bacteria, injury, allergies, lack of sleep, toxins, emotional strain and traumatic events” that affected her body in order to induce her to “undergo an unnecessary and expensive medical treatment, as well as to induce the sale of supplements profitable to Defendants.”

Leigh Erin Connealy, MD, at the Cancer Control Society’s 2009 convention.

In 2009, Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy came onstage to receive an award at the Cancer Control Society’s annual convention.

Detoxification Delusions

Once you buy in to toxin-haunted thinking, you can be persuaded to submit to a variety of rituals to cast off toxins that require far more time, effort, and money than evangelists invest in casting out demons in the name of Jesus.

During his CCS 2015 presentation, Garry Gordon claimed that “every man, woman, child, and animal needs daily detoxification as we are all toxic.” Gordon claims to be the “Father of Chelation Therapy,” which is routinely prescribed by some physicians, but has been validated only for treatment of patients with dangerously high blood levels of heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Gordon was trained as an osteopath, had his degree converted to an MD in California (which osteopaths could do in the 1960s), and was licensed to practice medicine in California through 1975. His current license comes from the Arizona Board of Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine, which has been described as “the second chance for doctors who may not deserve one.”

Methods of detoxification recommended at CCS conventions in addition to chelation methods included zeolite products and other concoctions promoted by Gordon, coffee enemas five times per day, colonics, alkalinization of the small intestine, and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.

Detoxification is only the beginning of the various supposedly holistic, multimodal treatment programs promoted by CCS. A common false teaching in the world of CAM is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get adequate nutrition from our food supply or the American diet. Beyond recommending organic, GMO-free foods (and sometimes vegan diets), CCS speakers recommended various dietary supplement regimens (most notably PolyMVA), and high-dose intravenous vitamin C. In addition to various aforementioned Tijuana clinic treatments, speakers promoted “leaky gut” treatments, hydrogen-rich water, and various dubious methods of immune support.

What Happened to Standards for Health Professionals?

It’s disgraceful that the pernicious nonsense promoted by the Cancer Control Society, especially from its most dubiously qualified speakers, could be allowed to count for continuing education units for any type of health professional. A phrase from Peter A. Lipson comes to mind: it’s “a travesty of a mockery of a sham.”

How could the California Board of Registered Nursing ever recognize the Cancer Control Society as a worthy source of the kind of “scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing” that is expected of continuing education experiences in nursing?

I’m glad that the Cancer Control Society’s continuing education license from the Dental Board of California expired and still shows incomplete status for renewal. But how could that board ever recognize CCS as being inclined to provide continuing education to licensed dentists that would “enhance the licensee’s knowledge, skill or competence in the provision of service to patients or the community”?

Continuing education is needed in healthy skepticism, not credulity. Even without the incentive of continuing education units, many health professionals (and pseudo-professional practitioners) embrace CCS’s messages and attend CCS meetings. Backgrounds in science subjects and solid health professional training are insufficient to immunize people against believing bullshit. Unsuspecting, cynical, overconfident, misinformed, fearful, counter-culturally sympathetic, ideologically-driven, transcendentally tempted, and wishful thinking people may be especially supportive of CCS’s egregious propaganda and resistant to reasonable, scientifically tenable, evidence-based contrary perspectives.

Many health professionals are frustrated with the health care delivery system and the day-to-day difficulties of caring for patients. They wish they had better ways to help, and they try to be open-minded about what are presented as alternative perspectives on healing. Unfortunately, they may not try as hard to be open-minded about strong evidence in support of contrary perspectives. Open-mindedness fails without a well-designed filtration system to effectively separate fact from fiction. In other words, it fails without healthy skepticism.

As Opus from Berke Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip once observed, “The trouble with having an open mind is that people keep coming along and sticking things in it.” When the misguided, toxin-haunted worldview of CCS gets stuck into an open mind that doesn’t filter properly, don’t be surprised when the consequences are paranoia and faulty treatment-related decisions.

Paul Heyne explained the open-mindedness problem in his 1998 microeconomics textbook:

The search for knowledge of any kind necessarily begins with some commitments on the part of the inquirer. We cannot approach the world with a completely open mind, because we weren’t born yesterday. And completely open minds would in any event be completely empty minds, which can learn nothing at all.

People on licensing boards should have commitments to consensus conclusions from within the scientific community. Crank hypotheses are no match for well-established scientific facts, which Stephen Jay Gould described as “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” Consensus conclusions about biological plausibility should be taken seriously and not overturned without extraordinarily good evidence. It takes empty-mindedness, if not neglect or apathy, to permit the biologically implausible teachings promoted by CCS to count for continuing education units.

I hope that members of licensing boards are open to learning how to improve their standards for licensing continuing education providers and effectively promote professional accountability. I hope they can cultivate the open-minded, science-based, evidence-focused, critical thinking of healthy skepticism.

Photo credits: William M. London

William M. London

William M. London is a professor of public health at Cal State LA, editor of Consumer Health Digest, and a scientific and technical consultant to the Committee on Skeptical Inquiry.