Why Colon Cancer Won’t Be 100% Cured By A Mouse Study.

As someone who’s had colon cancer, I was excited by the Newsmax headline that trumpeted. “3-Step Treatment Cures Colorectal Cancer in Mice” (yes, I use a variety of news sources, NPR to Newsmax). But when they said that this new treatment was 100% cure, I got suspicious. 

When I get suspicious, I go digging. The Newsmax story didn’t give me enough specifics to find the original medical article, but I found it eventually. The original title is a mind-numbing, “Curative Multicycle Radioimmunotherapy Monitored by Quantitative SPECT/CT-Based Theranostics, Using Bispecific Antibody Pretargeting Strategy in Colorectal Cancer.” It makes me wonder if I missed the class in medical school on how to write the most boring headlines imaginable. 

The most exciting word of the headline is “curative.” These mice were cured. But these mice didn’t get colon cancer the normal way (bad lifestyle choices and poor genetics). They had human colon cancer cells xenografted onto them. If that sounds Dr. Frankensteinish, it is. You get a specifically bred mouse that won’t reject the human cells, then you graft on separately grown cancer cells. The result may or not be relevant to even cancer growth in regular mice. A lot of cancer research has moved away from these mice because regular mice give us a better sense of regular cancer growth. But the xenograft can use human cells, that may or may not give us a better sense of how human cancers would respond to a treatment.  

So maybe this is a cure for colon cancer? Well…maybe. How many mice were treated? Ten. How many got better? Ten, but they only assessed nine of the mice under a microscope. The abstract didn’t mention what happened to the tenth mouse. 

Before I sign up for this particular treatment, I think I’ll at least wait for the bigger mouse trial. Call me a skeptic, but I like at least a hundred xenografted Frankenstein mice in my studies before I think about it. Not to mention a primate trial, small experimental human trials on metastatic patients, and finally a large-scale trial of human patients. In other words, we’re years from having this news really be news you can use. 

New Norwegian Study Supports The Colon Cancer Diet’s Recommendations.

A recent Norwegian study on aspirin and colon cancer patients was published in May. Unlike many other, smaller studies, they were able to survey the entire population and had automatically recorded their aspirin use from over ten years ago. Bad for personal privacy, good for medical research. 

The study combined all cancer groups, but found a significant (15%) reduction in cancer deaths directly associated with aspirin use. Stage II patients benefitted slightly more. 

 Aspirin is recommended in my book, The Colon Cancer Diet, though my personal experience with it has been that it likely increased my CEA. It’s nice to see it being supported so broadly.

A study of this size is wonderful because it doesn’t just make the alternative medical journals. Not only did the study get written up by N.D.s (article here), it appears on a conservative Texas Colon Cancer Research Center’s site.

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Hopefully, the broad interest will translate into a changing of recommendations for colon cancer patients. The problem is that adding aspirin after surgery might make surgeons concerned about bleeding. So the proper time to recommend aspirin would be at the six week follow-up appointment.

Should Colon Cancer Patients Take Avemar or Fermented Wheat Germ Extract?

So many products have no medical research, it’s hard to say no to one that does. Avemar is sold widely and used by many practitioners, so why would I not recommend it? I don’t, and here’s why. 

 

Patented back in 1998, fermented wheat germ extract (Avemar) was supposedly Dr.Hidvégi’s life work. He based it on Dr. Gyorgi’s idea that compounds like it might balance blood sugars. So how did we get from balancing blood sugars to curing cancer?

The company isn’t saying, but I suspect that this particular extract tastes terrible. The initial studies talked about basically a paste you had to eat. They’ve added more water and an orange flavor, but that usually is a sign of something fairly unpalatable. 

But there are studies. We’ve got test tube studies, rat studies, and an open label human trial for colon cancer patients. Overall, the results are all very positive. An article by another enthusiastic practitioner pushing the product for all cancers brought it to my attention. 

Let’s skip the other studies and move right into the human trial. The open-label trial showed that the product lowers recurrence and metastasis. So sign me up, right?

Not necessarily. The open label trial started with this selection process: “Patients were asked if they prefer to take MSC (Avemar), and thus enrolled in the MSC cohort. Those patients who refused to take the preparation formed the control cohort.” In other words, those who wanted to try anything to get better took the product, while those who couldn’t be bothered didn’t. The researchers note that there were more advanced cancers in the study group, as well as that the control group was older. Both groups got other treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, and there wasn’t any difference in outcomes between the two groups due to those treatments. Those taking the product took nine mg of it, once a day in water, for months. The effect was startling: “MSC decreased the risk of death among colorectal cancer patients by nearly 70%.”

A 70% reduction is astounding, especially if we’re talking about metastatic patients who made up almost a quarter of those taking the product.

So…where are our follow-up studies? The initial open-label study was published in 2003, and we’ve seen many other test-tube studies since. But these are in other areas, things like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Avemar is still being discussed as an addition to chemotherapy because it may help with side effects, but there hasn’t been another study published on a human colon cancer trial since. The initial study was funded by a grant from the Hungarian government, so maybe that grant wasn’t renewed? My suspicion is that a second study did not show as significant a benefit, and they never published it. Instead, they did what every drug manufacturer does. Look for other possible uses for your drug rather than trying to find a new one. 

So, since Dr. Hidvégi is listed as a co-author for several of the Avemar studies, I thought I would look more closely at his life’s work. Interestingly, he seems to have spent much of his career working in the grain industry, switching over to working in the supplement field in 1990. His first patented product was called Esterin (an alfalfa based extract), which supposedly lowered cholesterol. 

Now, there’s a lot of research on alfalfa saponins and lowered cholesterol. It stretches farther back than Dr. Hidvégi. But even in 2014 we’re still looking at rat studies. That didn’t stop Dr. Hidvégi from patenting his compound, exclusively marketing it through a single U.S. company as Cholestaid or on Amazon as Cholestsorb. It’s not available anymore, and a lawsuit in 2004 details how GNC repackaged it for years

Here’s the updated history, then, of Dr. Dr. Hidvégi. He started his own company to sell a patented product, Avemar, after failing to sell another patented product Esterin. With Esterin he made the mistake of reselling it to many supplement companies, but now he’s figured out that exclusivity is the key. 

All of this is interesting, but is it relevant? Yes. Because now we come to cost. A thirty day supply of Avemar will cost around $200. That’s an absurd price, unless you’re a drug manufacturer, which is where Avemar is going with the current research. Rather than focus on the retail crowd, Dr. Hidvégi is angling his product to be included in with chemotherapy. Given that chemo tends to run $1500 a treatment, a $200 add-on makes a lot of sense. 

But in terms of cancer patients, a $200 price tag means trading food for Avemar. And that price tag does not meet the minimum requirements for matching the one human trial. The trial subjects took nine mg of Avemar a day, while the daily dose given for $200 is 5.5 mg. So to match the only human trial, patients would need to double their dosage at $400 a month. 

Even that dosage might not be enough. Japanese researchers found a benefit from Avemar, but at a dose in rates of one mg for every two pounds of body weight. To afford that, a 100 pound patient would need ten standard packets a day at a cost of $2000 (maybe less. They sell it cheaper in bulk). 

If Avemar were priced affordably, I would consider it. The side-effect picture is very mild, and -especially for metastatic patients- the open label results were very hopeful. But given the cost, and the lack of any further studies despite drug-level prices, I’d have to pass on Avemar.