Stanislaw Burzynski: can he do what he claims?

With the current brouhaha surrounding the Burzynski Clinic, it seems reasonable to examine the particular claims on his website.  By way of a quick review, Burzynski is a doctor in Texas who claims to be able to treat and cure many cancers with a drug he calls “antineoplastons”.  There is no evidence in the clinical literature that this is so.  He is not allowed to dispense the therapy except as a study drug in an approved FDA protocol.  He generally required cash on the barrel for treatment.  Every expert  I’ve spoken to (including oncologists and cancer surgeons, and internists like myself) consider him to be a quack, although given the slippery, subjective definition of “quack”, this is simply an opinion.  So let’s move away from opinion and examine his claims directly.  All claims examined are quoted from his website.

Claim:

Our care encompasses a personalized and customized approach based on the individual genetic “fingerprint” of each cancer. Meaning what causes and stimulates that particular patient’s cancer.

I’d love to know more about this “genetic fingerprinting”.  Cancer is a genetic disease at it’s core, and for a number of cancers, we have been able to exploit this.  The most famous example is that of Gleevec, a drug that exploits a particular genetic defect in certain cancer cells.  This “fingerprinting” is a growing science, and is widely applied by any oncologist, not just Burzynski.  Their uses are still quite limited.  Most tumors are still fought less specifically, albeit with treatments that have been shown to be effective.  I don’t believe this claim, insofar as it implies that this can be done for any patient.

Claim:

Dr. Burzynski is a pioneer in cancer research, known worldwide for discovering Antineoplastons, which act as molecular switches to turn off cancer cells without destroying normal cells.

Whether this is true depends on how we define “truth”.  There are some basic science articles, all published by Burzynski as far as I can tell, that hint at this.  There are, however, no phase III human trials published.  None.  I don’t believe this claim, as it would apply to humans.

Claim:

Clinical trials conducted in our Clinic are FDA approved protocols. A protocol determines what will be done in a clinical trial and why. It outlines how many patients will participate in a clinical trial, type and frequency of medical testing, treatment plan, monitoring requirements and the evaluation plan. Our staff physicians strictly follow the protocol and submit periodical reports on the progress of the study for FDA evaluation. (Emphasis mine, PalMD).

I don’t believe this claim, based on an FDA warning letter issued in 2009.  According to the FDA warning, “we conclude that the IRB did not adhere to the applicable statutory requirements and FDA regulations governing the protection of human subjects.”  The FDA has these issues listed as unresolved.

These are only a few examples. There is nothing on his own website that doesn’t make me uncomfortable.  As far as I can tell from my own reading, there is no public database of his results in treating cancer.  There is no way to verify the hyperbolic claims made by his supporters.  As a physician, I would advise any patient of mine to steer clear of this man.

6 Comments

  1. Nan Erwin

     /  November 28, 2011

    This series of posts is more deeply appreciated than you can possibly know. Keep up the effort — this man’s self-centered deceit is the definition of evil.

  2. DLC

     /  November 29, 2011

    Gee, how totally . . . expected. Thanks for the writeup though. Burzynski may call himself a swan, but so far it looks to me like he quacks like a duck and walks like a duck. or perhaps more to the point he ducks like a quack.

  3. Peter

     /  December 13, 2011

    I’m newly graduated from medical school in Europe, and I had never heard about this Burtzkinky or his “neoplastions” (sp?) (a term which by itself made my pseudoscience alarm go off).
    If such a thing is possible, I think he is actually worse than regular quacks peddling homeopathic nonsense, because he pretends to be carrying out legitimate scientific research while making his patients pay. I don’t understand why they allow him to keep operating like that. He made a claim, it got tested, and it repeatedly failed on the trials, that should be the end of the story.

    Anyway, to end the post on a lighter note: here’s a sketch by Mitchell and Webb :

  4. Tom

     /  December 5, 2012

    The medical board keeps trying to put him out of business, and the cases keep getting dismissed. The only truthful legal conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the Doctor is not breaking the laws. Unless and until he puts a gun to the head of any of his patients, you’ll just have to get used to the principle that people own their own bodies and can make their own decisions regarding their bodies, regardless of what the government-run medical establishment thinks.

  5. Chris

     /  December 5, 2012

    Tom, even if Burzynski is not breaking any existing laws, he is stealing from cancer patients.

    Now, if you can produce a paper with the results of one of his Phase II clinical studies that show his methods actually work, then you might have a valid point.

  1. Stanislaw, Streisand and Spartacus | Josephine Jones
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