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Cancer Resarch: Alternative therapy, or bunk?

It's a dreaded disease that has afflicted humans for centuries. In recent decades, scientists around the world have been tirelessly searching for a cancer cure. Canadians are no exception. Amid constant fights for funding, concerns about "brain drain" and controversies over alternative therapies, Canada has made some vital breakthroughs in cancer research — from the invention of the "cobalt bomb" in the 1950s to the more recent innovations of cancer research icon Tak Mak.

It's called "714-X" and some cancer patients swear it works wonders. Most of the mainstream medical community, however, thinks it's all a bunch of baloney. The highly controversial cancer treatment drug was developed by Gaston Naessens, a Quebec-based researcher. In this 1989 CBC Television clip, we hear from patients who think 714-X is a miracle cure, and also see a heated discussion between Naessens and a Montreal doctor who confronts him with tough questions about his treatment. 
• Gaston Naessens was born in France in 1924. He moved to Rock Forest, Que., in the 1960s and opened a clinic there after being convicted of practicing medicine without a licence in Europe.
• Naessens' 714-X contains a mixture of camphor, ammonium chloride and nitrate, sodium chloride, ethanol and water. It is typically either injected into the lymph glands in the groin area or inhaled.

• The theory behind Naessens' treatment is that every human body contains living particles he calls "somatids." When the somatids are exposed to trauma, they enter an uncontrolled growth cycle that leads to cancer. The 714-X mixture is supposed to boost the immune system and restore the somatids to their natural state.
• The elixir is purported to treat AIDS as well as cancer.

• In Quebec in 1989, Naessens was charged with negligent homicide and practicing medicine without a licence after a woman who had chosen 714-X over chemotherapy died. He was acquitted of all charges.
• Although there is no hard medical data (in the form of peer-reviewed scientific reports) on the success rate of 714-X, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence from its enthusiastic supporters around the world who believe Naessens cured their cancer.

• In a 1991 book called The Persecution and Trial of Gaston Naessens: The True Story of the Efforts to Suppress an Alternative Treatment for Cancer, AIDS, and Other Immunologically Based Diseases, writer Christopher Bird presents Naessens as a misunderstood genius being ostracized by the exclusionary medical community. Reader reviews on Amazon.com reveal that there are Naessens supporters around the world who agree with Bird's portrayal.

• Magazine articles on 714-X often mention another popular alternative therapy called Essiac, a tea that many cancer patients credit for their second chance at life. A 2000 article in Report/Newsmagazine says 714-X and Essiac seem to be the two most convincing alternative therapies at the moment, but it also mentions "radical diet changes, green tea, a derivative of shark cartilage and a host of herbal remedies" as popular alternative therapies.

• The Report/Newsmagazine article commented on the alternative remedies' appeal: "Many certified oncologists continue to be disturbed at the scarcity of methodologically rigorous studies of alternative remedies. But to cancer sufferers, these are merely pedantic objections. A major attraction is that the alternatives are far less physically harsh than the three conventional approaches - surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which critics have dubbed the 'slash, burn and poison trio.'  When mixed with hope and desperation, plus the powerful testimonials of those who say they were cured, the alternatives have almost irresistible appeal."

• Naessens is still distributing 714-X through his company Centre expérimental de recherches biologiques de l'Estrie inc. (CERBE) in Rock Forest, Que. There are a number of clinics in Canada that will administer it, but there is currently an FDA ban on importing it in the United States (2005). At least one American has been charged and was sentenced to a year in prison for breaking this ban. Americans who want 714-X treatments (legally) can go to Canada and find a clinic to administer it.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 14, 1989
Guest(s): Bernard Baril, Gerald Battist, Claude Lavigne, Gaston Naessens, Françoise Naessens
Reporter: Paul Carvalho
Duration: 6:25

Last updated: August 27, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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