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Doesn't live up to the hype
on July 13, 2007
So I bought this book, Cancer - Step Outside the Box, 2nd Edition, and couldn't wait to read it. I plunged right into it as soon as it arrived, ready to savor every bit of wisdom distilled in this "ultimate" resource. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed in this book and am compelled to write what will hopefully serve at least as a partial counterweight to the numerous glowing reviews here in order that others may be somewhat less likely to be misled by them.
First of all, the book does have some merit. It's a fairly wide-ranging treatment of the subject and includes a somewhat unique combination of topics that one doesn't usually find in a book that is primarily about cancer and cancer treatments. The scope includes a fairly moving account of the author's personal link to the tragedy of cancer, numerous of his family members having been stricken; something of an exposé of the cancer industry; a very basic primer on cancer; a listing of some non-conventional treatments; a discussion of nutrition, diet, and exercise; and finally, some coverage of other related (tangentially in some instances) controversies such as fluoride, aspartame, mercury, vaccinations, root canals and soy foods. Oh yes, there are also a few clinics he recommends for which he provides contact information.
I did find myself in agreement with many of his opinions. The cancer industry is, to say the least, very vulnerable to criticism and it's hard to imagine how anyone can say with a straight face that the "War on Cancer" is being won. Moreover, there have been many useful, albeit non-conventional, therapies that have either been overlooked, or worse, suppressed. Some brave and creative souls who have pioneered innovative, promising approaches to cancer treatment have been persecuted and driven to ruin. I could go on, but the point is that for the most part I'm on the same side as the author on many of the issues considered in this book.
So in light of the foregoing, then why was I disappointed in this book? I was disappointed because it's poorly and sloppily written and because of that, the careful reader will find it to be an unreliable resource. Of course it's always the case that a person should consult more than one source, but if a book is as unreliable as this one, it's hard to have confidence in anything it recommends without consulting a more reliable source, so it would be sensible to find a better source to start with. I should also add that the $[...] price tag is also a little bit of a sting. There are plenty of other books about cancer that represent a much better value than this one--better written, better information, better price. There is the potential for a really good book here, but it will take a bit of work to get it to that point.
Rather than try to detail every error I observed in this book (that would require more pages of writing than I'm willing to produce), I'll just give you some examples, not necessarily the most egregious ones, but ones that I was able to easily locate flipping through the book right now and that will hopefully be enough to buttress my contention that this is by no means a 5-star book.
As I get started, I must say that before another edition is brought forth that the author should hire a competent editor. Although I've recently read several books that were deficient in the realm of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style, none of them have been as bad as this one on that score. I'm usually not a stickler about such things and have no problem overlooking an occasional error of that nature, but those types of errors were so numerous in this book that they greatly detracted and in fact made reading difficult. This is ironic in light of many reviewers' claims that the book is easy to read. Well, yes I suppose it is easy to read if by that it's meant that a great deal of education is not required to read it--it's written in a very accessible, conversational style. But it's also a very "difficult" (painful, even) read if you care about spelling, punctuation, grammar and style in the least. I won't say that there were errors on every page, but I will tell you that there were many instances of multiple errors on a page and many instances of many pages in a row with at least one fairly obvious error on each page. Is it expecting too much for an author to exercise at least a little bit of professionalism and clean that stuff up before he goes to press? And especially considering this was the 2nd edition, one would think pride alone would have impelled him to clean it up.
I didn't have to read very far to encounter the first error. On page xxvii, the very first page of the introduction, he states, "Today, approximately 1 in 3 Americans has cancer. It is estimated that by the year 2020, 1 in 2 Americans will have cancer!" Now we probably all recognize that what he meant to say was that 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during his/her lifetime etc., but that isn't what he said, he said 1 in 3 Americans HAS cancer, which is clearly inaccurate. Honestly, I didn't think too much of it at the time, I knew what he meant (we've all heard statistics pretty close to this one many times, so it was easy to know what he meant to say), and I figured just about every book has a few such errors that somehow are overlooked in the editing process, I figured it just slipped by. Unfortunately, it set the stage. There are many similar errors in the book where I knew what he meant even though that wasn't what he'd stated. Well, what if I hadn't already done a bit of reading on this subject before I read his book? How many times would I have had an inaccurate idea because he didn't take the time to write with care and precision? Quite often, unfortunately.
Now on to other issues...
I was as moved as anyone when I read of the degree to which cancer has decimated his family. When he wrote about his dad getting cancer, I was struck by the following: "Physically, dad was a picture of health, so we thought. He didn't drink alcohol, didn't smoke, and exercised regularly. Spiritually, he was a giant." He goes on to say, "Since dad never engaged in behavior which would typically cause any serious medical conditions, we were sure it must be a minor thing. Off to the hospital we went." Of course his father was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer and, tragically, died shortly thereafter. I kept expecting that at some point in the book he would revisit the deaths of those in his family and note some things that in retrospect they could have done to forestall the dreaded cancer. But no, none of that. It isn't that he doesn't talk about his family, we're treated to photos of his lovely wife and beautiful children as well as his extended family (all those who died from cancer) and he doesn't seem hesitant in the least to write about them, either. But yet after 10 years of research and after writing a book that expends a lot of ink talking about how we can prevent and treat cancer, he doesn't offer any thoughts about why lightning has struck his family so many times or how in retrospect the knowledge he's imparting in his book could have lessened the toll. Weren't there any dietary habits that should/could have been modified? Nutrients that may have been lacking? Exposure to carcinogens that could have been avoided? Or was it all just that ol' lightning striking close to the same place over and over? If nothing he's learned in 10 years of research could have averted or at least lessened the multiple cancer tragedies in his own family, where does that leave the rest of us who haven't researched this for 10 years? (To be complete, he does mention that his grandmother was an aficionado of Essiac Tea up until a couple years before she succumbed, but that hardly addresses this point.)
Sometimes I think the author is genuinely confused. Although there are many examples, most of them admittedly minor, they're still annoying. For example, in his discussion of the Budwig diet, he says that Johanna Budwig discovered that certain blood abnormalities of cancer patients "...were linked to a deficiency in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to our health." He goes on to say, "Ocean fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) are the highest in omega-3 fats, while seeds and nuts (such as flax, linseed, and walnuts) are the highest in omega-6 fats." Although I don't make any claim to being a lipids expert, I do know that he is correct in saying that both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential. However, the problem in the American diet is that there is an EXCESS of omega-6 fats so that they're completely out of balance with the omega-3's. (I realize there are a few specific sources of omega-6's that have usefulness for cancer patients, by the way, but they aren't addressed in his book and are beyond the scope of this review.) So the key is, in general, to increase consumption of omega-3's and REDUCE consumption of most sources of omega-6's. He should know that. Moreover, what he lists as sources for omega-6's are in error. Flax, linseed (by the way, last time I checked flax and linseed are different names for the same thing), and walnuts are better known as good plant-based sources of ALA (alpha linolenic acid)--omega-3's, not omega-6's. (Vegetable oils are a more common source of omega-6 fatty acids, by the way.)
When he talks about IVC, he briefly describes a protocol at the Manner Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, the so-called "Manner Cocktail," in which vitamin C (presumably sodium ascorbate since it's administered intravenously although he doesn't specify this), along with DMSO and laetrile are dissolved in a dextrose solution and used to treat cancer patients. Well, vitamin C has a chemical structure similar to glucose, which is one reason why cancer cells "suck it up" so readily. Wouldn't the dextrose (a sugar) interfere with the absorption of the vitamin C by the cancer cells? It is known that most sugars interfere with ascorbate absorption by cancer cells--the sugar and ascorbate compete, so why wouldn't that be the case with the Manner Cocktail? In other words, why is there a need for dextrose at all? Mr. Bollinger never even mentions the idea that sugar interferes with the absorption (and hence, anti-cancer effects) of vitamin C, much less addresses why the inclusion of dextrose is necessary or even advisable in this cocktail. But that shouldn't be surprising. Most of the treatments he describes are explained very superficially, and his description of IVC is no exception, unfortunately.
Here's one that's somewhat amusing but also a little unnerving. In his discussion of Kelley's metabolic therapy, he states, "Dr. Kelley had a cure rate of 93% in patients that lived at least 1 ½ years after starting his treatment." What kind of statistic is that?!? Why not just say that all the patients lived who didn't die? That would be just about as meaningful. Do you think for one second he would let a medical oncologist get away with a statistic like that? I don't. He would rightly ask him what was the cure rate--ideally with the cure rate for each type of cancer being segmented by age and stage, and by the way, let's get a solid definition of what is meant by "cure" here--including those that died within the first 1 ½ years for goodness sake. Come on! (This is not to disparage metabolic therapies, only to note that Mr. Bollinger's presentation is lacking.)
Sometimes I wasn't sure whether I was reading a treatise about cancer and cancer treatments or some company's marketing literature. Check out this example, under the heading of Administering Theta Super Silver, on page 207: "Silver has been used for thousands of years as a systemic disinfectant that functions like a secondary immune system. Our Theta Super Silver is made up of nano sized vegetable silver minerals..." Does that sound like a cut and paste from some marketing literature? It does to me. There are other similar instances, all fairly obvious. I expect a little more detachment on the part of an author.
Ok, this review is becoming lengthier than I would like, so I'll just mention one more "nit." It got to be a little tiresome to read constantly of the "most" this or the "worst" that--he really has a tendency to write in superlatives to the point of reducing the effectiveness of the message. Although this is unfortunately practically a hallmark of his writing style, and numerous examples could no doubt be found, one example should suffice. On page 328 we learn that dioxin is "the most carcinogenic chemical known to man!" On page 325 we learn that aflatoxin is the "most carcinogenic substance known to man." I don't know, maybe he makes some fine distinction between "substance" and "chemical." (Actually, that isn't likely the case. If we consult the glossary, which, by the way has two separate entries for acrylamide--why does this not surprise me?--he seems to use "chemical" and "substance" interchangeably--one of the glossary entries refers to acrylamide as a "substance" and the other one refers to it as a "chemical." So there you have it.) But still, both dioxin and aflatoxin would have to compete with several other substances or chemicals or whatever that are the most carcinogenic or most toxic or worst this or most toxic that. Sometimes he does this not through his own writing but through quotations of others. It makes little difference to me. Since Mr. Bollinger is the one who chooses the quotations, he may as well be saying it himself. Does a chemical really have to be the most toxic to be worthy of avoidance? I don't think so. Really, there can only be one "worst" of something, but there may still be plenty of other "somethings" that should be avoided--they don't have to be the worst in order for a case to be made.
I've been careful to cite a few examples to illustrate my points, but believe me there are plenty more that I could have cited. Each individual instance, in isolation, may seem minor. But the accumulation of one sloppy mistake after another becomes significant after a few hundred pages.
I started reading this book with every expectation of its being a 5-star read with insights that I would be able to share with my brethren who are skeptical of unorthodox approaches to treating cancer. But in the end, I can't imagine that this book will help in converting anyone to the "natural" side who is the least bit analytical. So I'm quite disappointed that it didn't live up to the hype. It would be a lot more fun to be able to honestly post an enthusiastic review.
It's not an enjoyable exercise to write a review like this, especially considering the apparent cult-like worship of this book (if the glowing reviews are to be believed). And if the reviews more closely matched the reality, I probably wouldn't even have bothered to write one myself. But it's because there seems (in my opinion, obviously) to be such a mismatch between the reviews and the reality of what the book delivers that I felt a duty to offer a different perspective. Maybe it will save somebody else from being as disappointed as I was.
Even with its shortcomings, it probably does have some value for the cancer patient who's struggling to find a more gentle treatment or for a person who is completely unaware of the skullduggery of the cancer industry. But there are better books out there for that and there are better books for the money. In the end, I believe 3 stars is a fair yet generous assessment.