Spontaneous Remission with the Use of Coley Toxins by Donald H. MacAdam

In 1891, a young New York doctor named William Coley performed a seemingly outrageous experiment and discovered the first cure for cancer. In the months leading up to this event, Coley had investigated the case of a cancer patient whose disease had spontaneously regressed. He found one clinical factor that distinguished this one fortunate patient from hundreds of similar patients. The “cure” was due to a bout with an infectious disease.
To Coley, it seemed probable that the body’s natural defenses, triggered by the accidental infection, must have somehow cured the cancer. If so, then an intentional infection might also have curative effects. To test his theory, Coley injected a solution of infectious bacteria into the neck of a terminally ill cancer patient. But, as is often the case with medical research, there was an unforeseen problem. The first injection, then the second, then the third, failed to produce an infection. Finally, an injection of a particularly virulent strain of bacteria had the desired effect. The patient contracted a severe bacterial infection and suffered a one-week bout of nausea, chills and fever. During recovery from the infection, the cancerous tumors began to break down. Within weeks, the tumors completely disappeared.
Coley repeated his experiment ten times but was able to produce an infection in only two patients. In one of these patients, the cancerous tumors entirely disappeared, and in the other, the tumors were reduced in size and number. At this point, believing there could be no therapy unless the patient was successfully infected, Coley must have redoubled his efforts to infect patients because the next two consecutive patients were successfully infected. Unfortunately, both patients died. Even worse, they died not from their cancers but from the intentionally produced infections.
After these fatalities, Coley abandoned the use of live bacteria and formulated a new preparation. His new preparation would be unable to produce the infection that had been observed in all of the successful cases, but Coley thought it might work anyway. He had devised a new theory, based more on intuition than science, that the anticancer activity of his original therapy was due to unknown components of the bacteria that were "toxic" to the cancer. Coley’s new preparation, containing a mixture of killed bacteria, came to be known as "Coley Toxins," a rather unfortunate name for a nonpoisonous immune therapy.
The first patient to receive Coley Toxins was a sixteen-year-old boy with a massive abdominal tumor. Every few days, Coley injected toxin directly into the tumor mass and produced the symptoms of an infectious disease, but did not produce the disease itself. On each injection, there was dramatic rise in body temperature and extreme chills and trembling. The tumor gradually diminished in size. By May 1893, after four months of intensive treatment, the tumor was a fifth its original size. By August, the remains of the growth were barely perceptible. The boy received no further anticancer treatment and remained in good health until he died of a heart attack 26 years later.
William Coley’s discovery was a mainstream cancer treatment for several decades beginning in the 1890s. Its use declined in popularity with the advent of x-rays and radium implants that were not only considered more technologically advanced but also had the significant advantage of convenience. By the mid twentieth century, Coley Toxins remained a standard therapy but one that was infrequently employed because it tied up a hospital bed for many months. The final blow to the first immune therapy against cancer was the introduction of chemotherapy in the 1950s. With modern medicine on the verge of curing cancer, Coley Toxins were no longer needed.
Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in the first immune therapy for cancer. In 1999, a research study concluded that five-year survival of historical cancer patients treated with Coley Toxins was statistically indistinguishable from modern patients. Five-year survival, however, is not what is needed. What is needed is a cure and in this regard, modern therapies that damage the immune system have taken us in the wrong direction. Fifty years after the introduction of chemotherapy, cancer mortality rates are higher than in 1950.
Coley Toxins remain a legal cancer therapy in the United States and a number of clinics that claim to provide the therapy can be located on the Internet. However, patients who wish to pursue Coley Toxins as an alternative treatment for cancer should proceed with extreme caution because the simplicity of the therapy makes it particularly vulnerable to abuse. This is a sad reality, but we can change it. The immune system is the key, but work in this area receives a small minority of the funds spent on cancer research. Isn’t it time to change the priorities?
Donald H. MacAdam is the author of a new book “Spontaneous Regression: Cancer And The Immune System” (Xlibris; 2003; $30.99) that investigates cancer and its treatments. For information about his book, please visit www.Xlibris.com/SpontaneousRegression.html or call (888) 795-4274.