Some Notes on CANHELP and
Its Founder, Patrick M. McGrady Jr.

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

CANHELP, founded in 1983 and now located in Kingston, Washington, is a fee-based service that advises which cancer treatment to consider. Its founder, Patrick M. McGrady Jr. (1932-2003), claimed that reliable information is difficult to get and that CANHELP could supply what is missing. His writings portrayed cancer specialists as brusque and ignorant and himself as compassionate and well informed. According to a CANHELP brochure:

Anyone with cancer knows how hard it is to get reliable information about the disease. . . .

It is not your physician's fault is he or she is unaware of your best options. The prevailing medical climate of chilling fear, ignorance, greed, malpractice suits and bureaucratic restrictions often makes it exceedingly difficult for a doctor to administer, or even to locate, the best treatments available. That's why we, as medical information specialists, may be useful to your and/or your doctor. CANHELP updates its data banks with regular visits to cancer care centers and remains in touch with specialists around the globe. . . .

I can help guide you through the maze of claims, counter-claims and put-downs regarding conventional and alternative therapies. I am not a doctor. I do not prescribe therapies; and I have no stake in any particular school of therapy or philosophy. In trying to locate your best options, I work closely with the best doctors I can find [1].

Background Information

McGrady graduated from Yale College in 1954 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science [2]. He was a medical writer for about 35 years and was president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors; Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek magazine; news editor for the Congress of Cultural Freedom in Paris; and a staff newsman for Associated Press, United Press International, and the Chicago Sun Times [2]. His best known work was The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, co-authored with Nathan Pritikin, which was published in 1979 and was on the New York Times Best-seller list for a year. His other books included Life Zones (1979), Television Critics in a Free Society (1986), The Youth Doctors, and The Love Doctors [2]. He co-founded and served as an officer of the American Aging Association, which the 1998 Encyclopedia of Medical Organizations and Agencies describes as a 500-member voluntary organization founded in 1970 and dedicated to "helping people live better, longer" by promoting studies directed toward "slowing down the aging process." [3]. He served on the board of directors of the Northwest Oncology Foundation, the Civil Justice Foundation, and the Toronto-based Bassett/Falk/Rowan Cancer Research Foundation [4]. He was a guest on more than 600 television and radio talk shows [5].

McGrady's father, Pat McGrady, Sr., served for 26 years as the American Cancer Society's science editor. However, toward the end of his career, he got cancer, had a falling out with the society, and began espousing "alternative" methods [7]. Patrick Jr. stated that his father's death in 1980 inspired him to found CANHELP [5]. A CANHELP press kit stated that he"felt he had to do something to help avoid the quandary of misinformation and interpretation of cancer treatments at a time of acute stress." [8] In a 1984 Newsday Magazine article, McGrady wrote that "Many cancer doctors lie shamelessly and endlessly about almost anything to their patients." [7]

McGrady wrote a Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights that insisted upon the patient's "rights" to: (a) choose one's own medical therapy; (b) an open, universal tumor registry, (c) fair unbiased treatment evaluations by the experts, (d) continuing humane and efficient medical care, (e) complete information about one's disease and therapy, (f) comprehensive coverage of both alternative and conventional treatments from insurance companies and HMOs, (g) caring, competent physicians protected from inappropriate lawsuits, and (h) strict observance by the U.S. government of the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki recommendations guiding doctors in clinical research.

CANHELP's Reports

CANHELP promised that its "expert staff" directed by McGrady would issue "reports tailored to your diagnosis, age, history, the cancer stage, and any complicating factors," emphasize the most promising treatments, detailing the advantages of complementary alternative and conventional therapies," and provide "the truth about important developments, fad cures, snake oil, and scams." [6] The basic price for his service was $400 for United States residents and $500 for persons living elsewhere. McGrady's reviews were based on the patient's medical records (no actual slides, x-rays, or scans), plus a letter summarizing the facts, including any treatments not mentioned in the records.

The "experts" who helped guide CANHELP's advice were not identified in its brochure or on its web site. One former consultant was Glenn Warner, M.D., a nearby cancer specialist whose medical license was revoked in 1995 [9]. The Seattle Times reported that the licensing commission's action was triggered by the deaths of two patients who could have survived with standard radiation and chemotherapy treatments [10]. McGrady has said that six complaints were involved [4].

How useful are CANHELP's reports? So far I have seen information from three sources:

Important Questions

Did CANHELP's reports point the way to a better outcome? Did McGrady provide better advice than highly-trained cancer specialists who see thousands of patients, read medical journals, access computerized databases, attend meetings at which cutting-edge treatments are discussed, and network with other specialists, including researchers who may have unpublished findings? Can a written report compete with a physician who actually examines the patient? Did McGrady have any evidence that what he did prolongs survival time? Did he even keep track of what happened to the people he advised? As far as I can tell, the answer to each of these questions was "No."

Contrary to what McGrady suggested, reliable information about cancer is easy to obtain. Reliable rports on established treatments are available from the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the National Cancer Institute, the University of Pennsylvania's Oncolink. Databases of scientific journal articles and clinical trials are readily available to the public as well as to health professionals.

If were marketing an unconventional service, I would present the best evidence I could muster. Testimonials do not provide a solid basis for drawing conclusions, but if I chose to display them, I would at least select good ones and include pertinent details. IN 2000,, CANHELP's posted "success stories" included skimpy comments about only four patients, none of whom was identified by name (which would enable verification). The first one stated that a patient with breast cancer had a good result, but it did not describe the treatment. The second stated that "Our hopes for [the patient's] recovery are now very high." The third said that the patient's "quest for recovery is outstanding." The fourth said the patient underwent (undisclosed) treatment in Japan and was disease-free for ten years after consulting CANHELP [13].

McGrady's "Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights" stated that physicians should be obliged to monitor the progress of their cancer patients and submit regular reports to a universal, government-funded tumor registry that is open to the public. Yet I saw nothing in his literature or on his Web site indicating that he systematically tracked his own clients. Evaluating the results of standard treatment can be difficult and is best done by the doctors who provide the treatment. In fact, the National Cancer Data Base collects statistics from tumor registries that are following about 60% of the nation's cancer patients [14]. However, valuable data on "alternative" methods may be collectible with simple scorekeeping. For example, a study of patients who attended a Mexican cancer clinic (the Gerson Clinic) has demonstrated that recording names and tracking patients through annual letters or phone calls can show that a treatment does not work. At the 5-year mark, 20 of 21 patients had succumbed to their cancer and the remaining patient was not cancer-free [15]. McGrady was in a potentially valuable position to keep score but, as far as I know, he never did so. He died suddenly in December 12, 2003 while recovering from knee-replacement surgery [16].

Current (2006) Status

CANHELP is now owned and operated by Madeleen Herreshoff, who is described on CANHELP's Web site as "a two-time breast cancer survivor, having used both conventional and alternative therapies to sustain a healthy remission." Her fees include $350 to $450 for a report plus a year of support service and a minimum of $100 for hourly consultations. The site further claims that she survived in spite of being given a "death sentence" in 1991. However, a detailed account provides a different perspective [17]. It states that after being diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer, she was advised that without surgery and an extensive program of radiation and chemotherapy she would not survive for five years. She had the lump removed surgically and underwent a lesser program of radiation and chemotherapy with a different doctor. She had a recurrence in 1994 that was treated with surgery. In addition to standard treatment, she used more than a dozen quack approaches. Although she attributes her long survival to her "integrated" approach, it is far more likely that the standard treatment she had was entirely responsible, even though it was less than her treating physicians had recommended.

For Further Information

If you have any report from CANHELP, please send a
copy to me at P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105.

References

  1. CANHELP: If you have hope, we can help. Undated flyer, distributed during the mid-1990s.
  2. Biography of Patrick M. McGrady, Jr. Undated, distributed in CANHELP press kit in 1992.
  3. Travers B, editor. Encyclopedia of Medical Organizations and Agencies, 7th Edition, Detroit: Gale Publications, 1998, p 1951.
  4. McGrady PM Jr. The revocation of Dr. Glenn Warner's license is unjust and cruel. Townsend Letter for Doctors. Aug/Sept 1996, p 158.
  5. About Patrick M. McGrady. Accessed Feb 22, 2000.
  6. Why choose CANHELP? Accessed Feb 22, 2000.
  7. McGrady PM Jr. The cancer patient's quandary: A medical critic claims that many doctors lie shamelessly and endlessly to their patients. And that, he says, is only part of the problem. Newsday Magazine, Sept 30, 1984, pp 10-13, 15-16, 43-44.
  8. Shamhart CA. Introductory letter to a magazine editor. Oct 9, 1992.
  9. Barrett S. Glenn A. Warner, M.D., charged with unprofessional conduct. Casewatch, August 8, 2014.
  10. Barry S. Warner still advocates for his healing methods. Seattle Times, Jan 14, 1997.
  11. Zimmermann DR. A case report: How Pat McGrady's 'CANHELP' helps patients with cancer. Probe 1(2):4­7, 1991.
  12. Dunn S. Medical search services: Advantages and disadvantages of using a service. CancerGuide, accessed Feb 20, 2000.
  13. What physicians and clients say about CANHELP. Accessed Feb 23, 2000.
  14. What Is the National Cancer Database (NCDB)? American College of Surgeons Web site, accessed Feb 29, 2000.
  15. Austin S, Dale EB, DeKadt S. Long-term follow-up of cancer patients using Contreras, Hoxsey and Gerson therapies. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine 5(1):74-76, 1994.
  16. Cohen MA. Commemorating Patrick M. McGrady, Jr. Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, Feb/Mar 2004, pp 17-18.
  17. Surviving breast cancer using an integrative approach: Madeleen Herreshoff's journey. Cancer Monthly, April 2005. Accessed on CANHELP Web site, Oct. 11, 2006.

This article was revised on August 7, 2014.

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