If there’s one thing that practitioners of dubious cancer therapies rely upon, it’s testimonials. If there’s one such practitioner who really, really relies on testimonials, it’s Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, founder of the Burzynski Clinic. Dr. Burzynski is known for what he refers to as “antineoplaston” therapy (which he massively oversells and is currently rebranding as sodium phenylbutyrate) and a highly dubious “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy.” The results of these testimonials are patients from all over the world organizing fundraisers, or, as I put it, harnessing the generosity of kind-hearted strangers to pay for woo. Indeed, it was just last week that I wrote about the case of a child in New Zealand whose parents are trying to raise $375,000 (NZ) to take their child to the Burzynski Clinic to treat her brain tumor. Truly, the power of Dr. Burzynski’s cult of personality is strong.
One thing I’ve noticed since I first started paying attention to Dr. Burzynski again is that there are actually a lot of these stories. I set up a Google Alert to notify me of mentions of Dr. Burzynski or his clinic on the web or in blogs, and I’m constantly getting new notices. One other thing that I’ve noticed is something that Dr. Burzynski won’t tell you, and that’s that, if you look, you’ll find quite a few examples of Burzynski Clinic patients who, unfortunately, die of their disease. For example, just such a notice popped up yesterday, this time from Singapore. This is a young woman named Isabelle Tan:
Her parents later found her passed out on the bathroom floor and took her to Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
There, doctors confirmed that the growth in her brain was a tumour. It had grown by 30 per cent since it was discovered.
An operation was performed to remove most of the tumour, followed by radiotherapy sessions and medication.
Last September, her family took her to Burzynski Clinic, a cancer centre in Houston, Texas, in the United States, to seek further treatment.
Isabelle returned to Singapore in January and was admitted to the intensive-care unit at SGH, where she remained until her death.
My purpose in writing this is not to gloat. Really, it’s not. Rather, it’s simply to point out that the evidence that Dr. Burzynski likely doesn’t do any better than conventional therapy is actually out there, hidden in plain site. It’s there in the stories of patients like Brynlin Sanders and Isabelle Tan. It’s also there in the lack of reliable evidence showing that Dr. Burzynski can save patients with cancer that conventional cancer doctors cannot. Pointing this out at every opportunity is essential, because the Burzynski publicity machine continues unabated, drawing the desperate and unwary into its gaping maw.
That machine functions largely through word of mouth and, after it became such a powerful tool for communication, the Internet. It consists of a network of advocacy groups who promote Burzynski and defend him whenever journalists or bloggers have the temerity to report on Burzynski from a science-based view, with proper skepticism for his claims. It consists of credulous moviemakers who make credulous paeans to Dr. Burzynski, complete with persecution conspiracy theories that claim that the Texas Medical Board, the FDA, big pharma, and conventional medicine are all arrayed against the brave maverick doctor Burzynski, who, if you believe the accounts, has single-handedly cured cancer. It consists of vultures who swoop down on critics with vacuous legal threats designed only to silence criticism. Over thirty years have gone by since Burzynski first started building this edifice, and it is now very strong, its foundation consisting of patients like Sanders and Tan and untold thousands who came to Burzynski because he offered them hope when they had none.
We can only hope that Burzynski is finally shut down in April after the Texas Medical Board hears his case again. In the meantime, remember these patients and mourn for them. They couldn’t be saved from the relentless and insatiable growth and invasion of their cancers. that didn’t stop Burzynski from charging huge sums of money to tell them that he could do what conventional medicine could not and save their lives.