Note: The principals in this article both are my friends, and
I regret the circumstances that impel me to write it—D.R.Z
Where to turn for help—for life-sustaining information — when cancer strikes?—A recent issue of the popular magazine Woman’s World carries an article headlined: “If you’re dying of cancer, there may be one man who can save your life.” “That man,” the blurb goes on to say, “is Patrick McGrady, perhaps the only one in the world who knows all about the latest cures and where they can be found.” 
The writer whose brief piece supports these sensational claims is Holly M. Redell. Unfortunately, there is no indication in the piece that Patrick and Holly are friends. They are. There also is no indication that Pat’s advice may be contradictory and confusing.. But information that Pat recently sent to a cancer patient indicates that—at least in one case—it can be. This material also suggests that Pat may not be nearly as up-to-date on the latest life-saving cures as Redell claims.
In Woman’s World, she describes two of Pat’s successful patients—a 72-year-old West Coast woman, Sara Black, who “beat the big C,” and an eight-year old boy with a brain tunior from New York state, who “was sent for lifesaving drug therapy to Texas,” at Pat’s direction. Redell writes that Pat’s help can be elicited by sending $400 to his cancer information service, CANHELP, in Port Ludlow, Washington.
Patrick McGrady is neither a doctor nor a scientist, nor does he claim to be—but he asks for medical records. He is a sometime colleague of mine, a journalist. We both were presidents of a national journalists’ organization, of which Holly was the chief administrator.
Pat’s father, Pat, Sr., was the long-time spokesman for the American Cancer Society (ACS), until he got cancer, and was badly treated by establishment doctors. He had a major falling out with ACS and became an advocate for unorthodox cancer tieatments. Since his death from the cancer, son Pat, Jr., has taken up his cudgel to promote alternative kinds of cancer care—including treaters and treatments some would call “quack.”
No evidence is offered in the Woman’s World piece that Pat can read medical records, or is qualified to do so, and thus can produce individualized, medically-astute advice. Pat told me, in a telephone interview, that he does not read x-rays, but asks for the radiologist’s summary and other medical records about a client’s cancer and general health. He says he discusses the data with his own physician consultants before suggesting treatment options.
Sadly, a dear friend and relative of mine has been diagnosed with a deadly lung cancer. He sent Pat $400. My friend’s case, about which I know some particulars, thus serves as an unwelcome touchstone to assess whether the personalized letter of advice Pat sent back describes “the latest cures and where they can be found,” as Woman’s World says, or, as Pat wrote to my friend, more modestly, provides “the best ideas we can find for treating your disease at this point.”
Information Source Needed
In explaining why he wrote to Pat, my ill friend said:
“Isn’t there a need for someone to do what McGrady is doing?” That is, to supply “independent information and advice from outside the self-serving “cancer establishment” of ACS, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in Bethesda, MD, and the network of research and treatment centers they support?
Perhaps. The question is: How well does Pat fill the bill? By the time he asked this question, my friend—to his extraordinary good fortune—had become engaged in the conventional care network, not just for standard therapies, but also at its cutting edge. Luckily, he also had insurance to cover the $250,000 projected cost for a grueling, six-month course of life-or-death therapy. These case facts are relevant:
My friend, age 51, was diagnosed last Thanksgiving with oat cell carcinoma of the lung (OCCL), also called small-cell carcinoma. This uncommon lung cancer tends to occur in smokers. My friend once smoked heavily. It initially was not clear whether the cancer was limited to his chest, which would provide some fair grounds for hope, or, rather had already spread to his brain—in which case his prospects surely were grim.
Prognosis Is Improving
Until a few years ago, OCCL was a sentence of early death; by now my friend would have been gone. But in the 1970s, NCI-supported researchers developed a chemotherapeutic approach that produces striking remissions, and even cures some patients. McGrady says, fairly accurately, that fewer than 10% of patients with early disease will live 5 years or more. What he fails to say is that before these therapies, virtually no one did. Pat says, incorrectly, and confusingly, that studies of the drugs my friend received have reported no dramatically long survivals. Yet later in his letter he describes a friend of his own who had survived 10 years with standard drug care plus unconventional therapy. A recent scientific report said 5% of patients treated at NCI survived 10 years or longer .
Adding to the confusion, after badmouthing the drugs my friend had been given, Pat then recommends a clinic in Germany where he “probably” would be given one of these drugs, albeit in a different and possibly more aggressive way. Explaining his method to us, by phone, Pat recently said: “I advise every OCCL patient to get conventional chemotherapy because [OCCL] goes so fast that most of the alternative schemes don’t have time to make even a dent.” He added that the conventional chemotherapy should win most such patients about a year of life-time that they cati use to seek other methods.
The “establishment” researchers, of course, hope to do better than they’ve reported thus far. One method they are trying is autologous bone marrow transplantation. This name is confusing, because the “transplant ” is not the cancer-killing therapy. Rather, several pints of bone marrow—which includes the stem cells that make our immunologically protective white blood cells—are sucked out of the bones through a needle, and are deep frozen. Stem cells in the bloodstream also are preserved.
Giant doses of powerful anticancer drugs then are given. It is hoped they will destroy every last remaining oat cell. But they also kill fast-dividing stem cells as well. When the chemical poisons have done their work, and have dissipated, the patient’s stem cells are thawed, and returned, to reconstitute his or her immune system.
My friend found himself in one of the several U. S. cancer research hospitals where “bone marrows” are being tried experimentally for OCCL (it is being widely used for a variety of other cancers elsewhere around the country). Though the results have not yet been published in a journal, he was told that 9 of the first 10 patients like himself, with limited OCCL, were apparently disease-free survivors—and two were out past four years. He also was told, after many tests, that when he completed the standard therapy he would be a candidate.
Pat, to give him his due, did not know all these details. But he searched art NCI data base of published reports, called MEDLARS, which, he said, presented data on the utility of bone marrow transplant in treating OCCL. He wrote that the printout showed, clearly, that this method provides “little or no benefit to “patients such as you.” This was hardly easy advice for my friend to grapple with, given that his doctors were recommending the procedure.
The MEDLARS printout, now lost, contained no positive reports on bone marrow transplant for OCCL, because few had been published. Another reason, Pat indicated recently by phone, was that the printout he sent was on the wider subject of treatments for OCCL, not on the more focused topic of OCCL and bone marrow transplant that he said he was sending.
Suppose my friend had believed Pat McGrady, and thrown away what seems to him, and to his doctors (and to me), his strongest real hope for survival! More to the point, the information that “bone marrow” is a viable, albeit experimental therapy for OCCL, is—and was—readily available to Pat, as well as to my friend. The fact that Pat failed to obtain or offer it must be considered in assessing his service.
This information is available through NCL It sponsors a Cancer Information Service. Any American can reach it, by dialing 1-800-4-CANCER. This service is free. It is staffed by trained counselors who provide verbal information, booklets and frequently-updated computer printouts listing standard and experimental therapies and particulars about where they are offered. This source presently lists five U.S. cancer hospitals that now offer “bone marrow transplant” for OCCL, including the hospital that Pat knew was providing my friend’s cancer care.
Pat’s failure to provide this information is serious. But it allowed him to discount the standard drug therapy my friend was receiving and the experimental one he was being offered, in order to promote his unproven alternatives. Rejecting bone marrow transplant, Pat writes, in boldface, that my friend should pursue different therapies that would “dramatically” increase his chance of survival.
There follow 11 single-spaced pages of chatty but confusing information on alternative treatments, interspersed with news and press release data about conventional therapists, and information on some independent cancer specialists who fall between the two stools. The alternative methods include old quack remedies like coffee enemas. Highly recommended by Pat is a regimen that requires a restrictive diet, the swallowing of 100 to 150 or more pill’s each day, including pancreatic enzymes to destroy the cancer, mid coffee enemas to wash away the dead cancer cells. Other recommendations are the industrial solvent DSMO, electricity, injections of vitamin C, inhalation of vitamin A. Confusingly, however, some of the more conventional practitioners whom Pat recommends use variations of the drug regimens developed at NCI that he disparages elsewhere in his letter!
Little in the $400 letter pertains specifically to OCCL. Most, rather, is anecdotes on results with other—different—cancers. An outdated reference, in the future tense, to a company that “will be marketing the[se] drugs by 1990,” suggests that the $400 letter my friend got in March 1991 was an all-purpose missive, lightly personalized in response to his mortal plea.
It is noteworthy that no data are included. For example, Pat highly recommends a nutritional therapy (described above), developed by William Donald Kelley D.D.S., for which 80% five-year survival is claimed for an unidentified group of “far-advanced” cancers. Pat himself discounts this claim, with the caveat “if . . true.” Pat says that no others get results that are “even close—but without indicating whether an any of these purported treatment successes were in oat cell patients and, if so, how well they fared on vitamins and coffee enemas.
The letter includes 19 identifiable names of cancer researchers and practitioners. Only five are said to have expertise in OCCL. Two are leading cancer-establishment figures—Paul Bunn, M.D., of the University of Colorado, in Denver, and John Minna, M.D., of the U.S. Naval Hospital, in Bethesda, MD. Both are exponents of the conventional therapies that my friend is receiving.
The 19 experts can be fairly easily categorized. Surprisingly, the majority (11) are establishment men. A second group, of five, are borderline, between established and alternative care. Only three, for whom Pat has very high praise, are far outside the boundary of established care.
I asked NCI’s Cancer Information Service to check each of these 19 names; they used a broad, international data base called CANCERLIT. Clearly, if a cancer specialist has recently developed what Pat calls a “further treatment” that might “extend dramatically” my friend’s chances for life, this is where one might expect to find it. This is what CANCERLIT found, searching each of the 19 names, and the topic OCCL, for the last six years:
- Of the 11 established names on Pat’s list, three were in the data base, Drs. Minna and Bunn, mentioned above, who would be likely, if not certain, to recommend drug therapies similar to the ones my friend received. Also on the data base was David Golde, M.D., of UCLA, developer of a stem-cell-boosting material called colony-stimulating factor—which, in fact, my friend has received.
- None of the other eight established cancer experts whom Pat describes has published on OCCL in the last six years.
- Of the five men in the borderline group, not one has published a new treatment or anything else on OCCL in the last six years.Of the three nanies in the far-out group, none has published on OCCL in the six years. Yet these therapists and therapies are highly recommended by Pat.
Standard Care Came First
In June, I phoned Sara Black and the mother of the eight-year-old boy with brain cancer—the two success stories cited by Holly Redell in her Woman’s World piece about Pat. At that time I was told both were in remission. I also discovered some relevant information that was not disclosed or even hinted at in the article:
- Both patients had received standard therapies before they and their families turned to Pat for help. The woman had received surgery, and said she had been offered either follow-up chemotherapy or radiation. She turned to Pat for help on where to get both standard methods.
- The boy had received alternating courses of radiation and chemotherapy at a major New York City cancer hospital. These treatments were stopped when he went to Texas for therapy by Stanislaw R. Burzynski, M.D., a physician who offers alternative, urine-extract treatments that Pat says are frowned on by FDA.
I recently phoned Holly to ask if she’d elicited information about these patients’ standard care before writing her story. She waffled, then said: “I just concentrated with them on what Pat’s service did for them. . . . My impression was that the doctors that led to the results were the doctors he [Pat] recommended.” I then called Pat. He told me, candidly, the boy had died. He died in August, three months after Holly’s report said, “He’s a far cry from the boy destined to die from a malignant brain tumor. ” The woman has had, and has been successfully treated for a recurrence of her cancer, Pat said.
That evening, Pat sent me the printout of a CANCERLIT search that specifically sought published and unpublished reports on OCCL and bone marrow transplant; this is the search that I think he originally should have done for my friend. Right at the top is a 1988 report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology in which my friend’s doctors report that 5 of their first 6 patients still were alive, and “all 5 remain [disease] progression-free 3 to 16+ months after their bone marrow treatments.”
Pat already had told us that if he had seen, and believed, the good results my friend had been told about, he might have recommended bone marrow. But, there they were, early on, reported at a meeting Pat says he keeps track of! What is more, since they came from the hospital where my friend was being treated, Pat easily could have picked up the phone and talked to the doctors before telling my friend to reject them.
By now, Pat had checked his records, and discovered my friend’s identity, which I had not disclosed. Referring to the CANCERLIT printout, in a note, he asked me “what the hell” I would have said, in his place, if I had seen the reports summarized in it. They showed, he said, that the method works for patients with limited disease, but that my friend “had brain mets” [metastases], meaning the disease had spread. These patients would not be helped by transplant.
I asked Pat how he knew my friend’s disease had spread, since, while there had been early fear this was so, by the time the bone marrow was offered, it was fairly clear that it had not. Pat read us an entry in the medical record, which my friend had sent him in February. It was the summary of a CAT scan, performed in December, which said: “Suggestion of two . . . lesions which, given the clinical history, are consistent with metastases. However, due to artifact, these findings are equivocal.”
Between mid-December and February the record Pat sent me makes no further reference to metastases. Pat thus had made what doctors call the differential diagnosis that the “equivocal” brainfindings were cancer, notsomething else, as they in fact turned out to be. He used a three-month old medical record (CAT scan summary in December; Pat’s letter in March) to do so.
He said my friend should have told him his disease was limited, and his records should have shown that there might be some other cause for the brain lesions.
“You can’t do a very good job for the patient unless you get a very good history,” Pat said.
# # #
But that, of course, is the problem. In my opinion. Pat is trying to practice some form of medicine, by mail and telephone, which I believe he is not equipped for, or professionally trained to do. In this case he did not do his homework on bone marrow and OCCL. He made a prognosis—the case is essentially hopeless — based on a dated and explicitly “equivocal” diagnosis, and suggested some far-out, non-scientific therapies, instead of bone marrow transplant.
Pat is a friend and a very well-meaning man. I wish he were not doing what he is doing.
My ill friend may be right, that there is need for good, independent cancer referral services. But they must be run by highly-trained physicians, familiar with the latest studies, who have been drilled in the careful, cautious way that diagnosis, referral and treatment must proceed if a patient is to receive optimal care with minimal risk of error.
My friend is regaining his strength after his bone marrow transplant.
This article—slightly modified for posting on Quackwatch — was published in the November 1991 issue of Probe Newsletter. Although I invited McGrady to submit a rebuttal, he did not do so. My friend remained cancer-free until his death in 1998. Although he had other health problems, he enjoyed most of his remaining years. He died of myelodysplasia, an aftereffect of bone marrow transplantation in which the regenerated marrow stops producing blood cells . He would have died much sooner—probably six years earlier—by following McGrady’s advice to pass up the bone-marrow transplantation.
David R. Zimmerman, an investigative journalist who resided in New York City, edited and published Probe, a monthly report on science, media, policy, and health. McGrady died in 2003, but CANHELP continues to operate (and to provide untrustworthy advice).
- Redell HM. If you’re dying of cancer, there may be one man who can save your life. That man is Patrick McGrady, perhaps the only one in the world who knows about the latest cures and where they canc be found. Woman’s World, May 7, 1991.
- Johnson BE and others. Ten-year survival of patients treated with combination chemotherapy with or without radiation. Journal of Clinical Oncology 8:396-401, 1990.
- Zimmerman DR. A cancer patient’s death is touchstone to weigh standard vs. alternative care. Probe 7(4):6-7, 1999.
This page was revised on October 11, 2006.