PZ Myers, on his Pharyngula blog, responds to “radical, exaggerated, sensationalistic claims” in a story whipping around the Web like wildfire that he says “inflames the conspiracy nuts.”
“So many people have sent me this sensationalistic article, “Scientists cure cancer, but no one takes notice”, that I guess I have to respond. I sure wish it were true, but you should be able to tell from how poorly it is written and the ridiculous inaccuracies (mitochondria are cells that fight cancers?) that you should be suspicious. The radical, exaggerated claims make the truth of the story highly unlikely.
Researchers at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada have cured cancer last week, yet there is a little ripple in the news or in TV. It is a simple technique using very basic drug. The method employs dichloroacetate, which is currently used to treat metabolic disorders. So, there is no concern of side effects or about their long term effects.
The simple summary is this: that claim is a lie. There have been no clinical trials of dichloroacetate (DCA) in cancer patients, so there is no basis for claiming they have a cure; some, but not all, cancers might respond in promising ways to the drug, while others are likely to be resistant (cancer is not one disease!); and there are potential neurotoxic side effects, especially when used in conjunction with other chemotherapies.
So we have one popular account that is badly written and makes exaggerated claims. There is also a university press release, the source for the sloppy popular account, that doesn’t contain the egregious stupidities but does tend to inflate basic research studies into an unwarranted clinical significance. And then, of course, there are the actual peer reviewed papers that describe the research and rationale, and also the reservations, on DCA. It’s like a game of telephone: you can actually trace the account from the sober science paper to the enthusiastic press release to the web account with its extravagant claims of a simple, cheap cure for cancer, and see how the story is gradually corrupted. It would be funny if the final result wasn’t going to dupe a lot of desperate people.
But there is a germ of truth to the story, in that DCA does have potential.
We should be urging further investigation of this promising drug with the beginning of clinical trials, but it’s far too early to be babbling about “cancer cures”. There have been lots of drugs that look great in the lab and have excellent rationales for why they should work, but the reality of cancer is that it is complicated and diverse and there are many more pitfalls between a drug that poisons cancer cells in a petri dish and a drug that actually works well in the more complex environment of a human being.”