The Forgotten Miracle Cure for Cancer

You have probably heard of Dr. Joseph Lister, who in the 1860s finally realized that most surgical patients who died did so because of bacterial infections resulting from unsanitary conditions. Because of Lister, surgery today is performed in a sterile environment, and death due to post-operative infections is exceedingly rare. There was one odd exception to the sterility procedure, however. In the 1890s, a young physician named William Coley was working at the New York Cancer Hospital (forerunner of today’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). In the course of his research, he discovered that surgery for cancer had actually been more successful in the days prior to antiseptic surgery. He then encountered a patient who, seven years earlier had been diagnosed with terminal throat and tonsil cancer. While in the hospital, he contracted an infection caused by a streptococcal form of bacteria, similar to “strep throat”. The patient was alive and well and continued to live another 26 years. Dr. William Coley discovered that injecting streptococcus bacteria into the tumors of cancer patients would activate the body’s own defenses. In the course of destroying the bacteria, the antibodies wound up destroying the tumor as well–even in cases in which the cancer had metastasized.

Coley had great success in treating inoperable cancers with his vaccine; other doctors in the U.S., Canada and Europe reported similar success. Why, then have we not heard of this treatment? Is this another scheme by Big Pharma to preserve profits through the sale of chemotherapeutic drugs? That is part of it. However, there is more to the story. As Coley was experiencing his greatest success around 1900, radiation therapy was being embraced by the medical establishment. Although it had severe limitations and was useless when the cancer had metastasized, medical establishment bureaucrats were awed by the new technology. Radiation therapy became standard, and Coley’s work was soon marginalized. Another problem was the fact that the vaccine could be unpredictable and, in rare cases, do more harm than good. Each batch of vaccine literally had to be custom-made for a specific patient, making it difficult and expensive to produce at the time. Nonetheless, it was used with a great deal of success until the early 1960s, when the Food and Drug Administration essentially outlawed “Coley’s Toxins.” Despite this, there has been some renewed interest among oncologists in Coley’s work. To be continued…