Herbs Against Cancer
by Ralph W. Moss, PhD
Equinox Press Inc., 144 St. John's Place, Brooklyn, New York; 718-636-4433
Quality paperback, 1998, $16.95 US, $23.95 Canada, 300 pp.
Of all the controversies in medicine today, none is
more apt to incite the wrath of the medical establishment than alternative
cancer treatment. Cancer treatments other than chemotherapy and radiation
have been so thoroughly suppressed in the US that even the Office of
Alternative Medicine (OAM), expressly mandated to investigate promising
alternative treatments, seems unable to look at herbal treatments for
cancer without bias. Yet in the 1950's - only 40 years ago - Harry Hoxsey
had 17 clinics nationwide, the largest chain of cancer treatment centers
in existence, using an herbal formula with apparent success. The American
Medical Association (AMA) tried for many years to shut him down, with
little success. (They finally bankrupted him with legal expenses, a
strategy still used today against heretics). Hoxsey was not an MD, but
he was assuredly sincere as he often treated patients without charge,
and there are many people today who attest to the efficacy of his formula
in curing cancer.
What's happened since the 1950's is that pharmaceutical
drugs have been declared the only "scientific" treatment choice,
especially chemotherapy for cancer, and herbal remedies are putatively
described as "not scientific" and therefore dangerous. (In
California, it's against the law to use anything but chemotherapy and
radiation for treating cancer).
In his new book Herbs Against Cancer Ralph Moss sets
out meticulously researched material on the major herbs which have been
used in the treatment of cancer, and their often colorful proponents,
such as Harry Hoxsey. Although cancer has been called a disease of civilization,
signs of cancer have been found in prehistoric skeletons, so it's a
good guess that the use of plants with antitumor activity predates modern
civilization by eons. And throughout the 20th century medical herbalists
have been proposing and using cancer formulas, even offering their treatments
for testing by the National Cancer Institute, but like Harry Hoxsey,
they have been ignored, or called "quacks" and harrassed.
To even suggest anything positive about herbs for cancer
angers many conservative doctors. Ralph Moss deftly picks his way through
this minefield at the beginning of Herbs Against Cancer stating, "I
will not sweep potentially unpleasant or dangerous facts about herbs
under the rug...If I know about them, so will you. However, that said,
it is emphatically true that herbs in general are much safer than pharmaceuticals."
He then goes on to describe the earliest cancer treatments using herbs
and other natural substances, and the historical detail is important
For instance, the herbs used externally for skin cancers
and tumors are called escharotics or caustic salves and were an important
part of Harry Hoxsey's treatments. This herbal treatment was widely
used for centuries and the chapter on escharotics includes the historical
development of Mohs' Microsurgery, a modern technique using an herbal
salve adjunctive to surgery.
There are chapters on Essiac Tea, The Grape Cure, and
Mistletoe, all carefully researched and the material is cogently written,
without bias or hype. Moss then examines chemotherapy's herbal roots,
proof that herbs used against cancer are not merely "snake oil."
He lists about half a dozen cytotoxic agents being used today which
have been used as folk remedies: Colchicine (Crocus), Oncovin and Velban
(periwinkle), Etoposide (Mayapple), Taxol (Yew), and Camptothecin (Chinese
tree). The discussion of the clinical work and historical development
of these drugs, clearly shows the bias of research whose primary goal
is the production of patentable drugs, rather than curing cancer.
It is interesting to note the progression of books authored
by Ralph Moss: The Cancer Industry and Questioning Chemotherapy and
now Herbs Against Cancer. As an acclaimed science writer in the area
of cancer treatment, there are few medical writers today who can bring
to their subject as much expertise, and few knowledgeable enough to
propose a serious second look at the herbs used traditionally to treat
cancer. He presents both documented and anecdotal material on the historical
use of these herbs, keeping a neutral attitude throughout the book.
Moss states in his introduction that this is the first
of two books on the topic of botanicals and cancer. The main focus here
is the ongoing conflict between mainstream doctors and advocates of
natural agents; how these "herbs of contention" have been
used in the Western world to treat cancer, often successfully, and how
orthodox medicine has arbitrarily denied their effectiveness.
One of the encouraging bits of news is that the World
Health Organization (WHO) is doing much to promote a return to herbal
medicine in the developing world, a voice of reason calling for the
integration of Western technology and traditional herbal medicine.
With a historical account of the successes and failures
of herbal cancer treatments and the controversies surrounding them,
Ralph Moss has laid the groundwork for a fresh look at cancer treatment.
At a time when both the public and oncologists themselves are becoming
dissatisfied with the standard treatments for cancer, Herbs Against
Cancer may be a harbinger of better things to come.