The End of Illness
by David B. Agus, MD
Free Press, 2012
Dr. David Agus makes some interesting admissions for an oncologist. When he was first deciding to go into oncology he was asked why he chose a field that gave poison to patients, with little or no benefit. A few lines down he speaks of this being one of the few medical areas where traditions are abandoned. I’m thinking traditions like Hippocrates (first, do no harm), but he didn’t word it quite like that.
Dr. Agus says point blank that there is still no cure for cancer and that progress on curing the disease stalled out decades ago. He even has a chart which shows the death rate due to cancer. That rate has gone nowhere since 1950. Later on he states that the pharmaceutical industry is broken and has no magic bullets to shoot at this problem. Near the end of the book he refers to being stuck in the current era of stagnation. I found one of his comments on biology amusing. He said DNA may be the biggest success story in biology because it started as a theory and was later confirmed to be correct, which hardly ever happens in the field. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of biology.
Dr. Agus looks at the history of cancer, covering incidents from ancient to modern times. This is where I think he misses the biggest key he’s going to find to unlock the mystery. What about cultures that did not have cancer? What was different about them? Why didn’t they suffer from cancer?
Agus does recognize the fact that cancer is not primarily genetic. Some people may be more predisposed to cancer but that doesn’t mean they are doomed to suffer from cancer. In his view, studying genes is not the path to a cure. That is like looking at a list of materials needed to construct a building and trying to understand how the building is laid out, what the floor plan is, where’s the bathroom, how many stories the building is going to have. He also recognizes that environment and lifestyle play a role and spends several chapters going into more detail on issues like exercise, keeping a regular schedule, sleep, chemical toxicity and diet. In all fairness I can’t say he overtly downplays the importance of those things but I don’t get the impression he thinks any of those things have the greatest promise.
His treatment of diet is not bad if you want to get your nutrition advice from an oncologist, but there are a least a few gaping holes. There is an extended discussion of vitamin D but he concludes that 600 IU per day is adequate for most people. There is no mention of the importance of balance with vitamin A and other fat-soluble nutrients. He refers to a major study by Manson looking at the effects of high doses of vitamin D and omega-3 from fish oil supplements. Several pages later Agus even says isolated vitamin fragments are drugs. Since that is not real nutrition I don’t expect the Manson study to prove anything about real nutrition.
Dr. Agus is a big believer in flu vaccines. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology jointly recommended them so they must be great. Then again, it seems to depend on whom you listen to. The Cochran Library says they are 99 percent ineffective. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) opposes mandatory flu vaccines for its workers. In their letter to the Colorado Board of Health they wrote, “…it is shocking that there is so little evidence that the influenza vaccination program is effective …” According to Gary Null in Germs, Biological Warfare, Vaccinations, no vaccine has undergone a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. According to Hugh Fudenburg, MD, if an individual has had five consecutive flu shots, that individual has ten times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. If these concerns were addressed in the book I might be more open to trying a flu shot. For now, it’s not on my bucket list.
The doctor is also a fan of statin drugs and he feels confirmed by the JUPITER study. The JUPITER study examined the benefits of a statin drug called Crestor, made by AstraZeneca. Who funded the JUPITER study? By happy coincidence, it was AstraZeneca. I guess conflict of interest means nothing these days.
As I was reviewing this book the FDA issued new warnings on all statins. It seems statin drugs can cause memory loss, myopathy (muscle damage), and diabetes. Why does Dr. Agus take statins? Does he have high cholesterol? No, it’s under 200. Was there something wrong with his lipid profile? No. He had extensive DNA analysis done which mysteriously led him to believe he had a high risk of cardiovascular disease. This analysis also told him he had lower-than-average risk for colon cancer, but then he had a polyp removed from his colon. Why does he have so much faith in this DNA analysis? I really don’t know.
When he starts getting into protein analysis, which produces such elaborate results that he needs the help of a computer scientist to comprehend those results, I sit back and shake my head. I’m a computer engineer so maybe I should be impressed, but I’m not. This stuff may yield some useful information but is this really the path to a solution for cancer? With these results he seems to think he can then come up with just the right drug for each patient. But he said elsewhere that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have any drugs that work.
An article from Dr. Mercola tells about a Dr. Potti of Duke University who discovered a method for precisely matching up the right drug with a specific kind of tumor. After running a trial on over one hundred patients, not only did it fail, it apparently was a fraud. I don’t accuse Dr. Agus of any fraud, but this illustrates how desperate some people are to come up with some kind of results using drug-based approaches.
I like technology but there is a proper time and place for it. Then there’s a proper time and place for common sense. I have a copy of an old government report titled Cancer Mortality in the Ten Original Registration States. It was published in 1926 and looked at cancer trends in ten states from 1900 to 1920. It concludes that the death rate due to cancer increased 25-30 percent over that twenty-year period. The number of cancer deaths per one hundred thousand in 1920 was 83.4 according to a public health report from January 1922. As of 2008 the number is around 175 according to the CDC. Even if you don’t want to look at other cultures who don’t have cancer, if you look at the United States, the further back we look, the less cancer there was. I don’t think that’s because we had some technology that has since been lost. We’ve been working the drug-based technology angle for decades now. How much longer do we beat that dead horse before we plumb the depths of insanity?
When I discuss this with friends it is usually around this point someone asks whether cancer is on the rise because we are living longer. But cancer is a leading cause of death among children. I will admit I have not spent millions of dollars studying this but my preliminary conclusion is that cancer is not on the rise in children because they are living longer. The thumb is DOWN.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2012.