By KatharinaPublished On: October 29, 2019Last Updated: November 23, 2022
Cancer caused over 10 million deaths in 2021 alone. With no effective medical treatment for many forms of cancer, the door is left open for those wishing to exploit vulnerable patients for financial gain. Individuals and companies offer ‘alternative’ cancer therapies, ranging from worthless alkaline water to dangerous unregulated drugs. Among the most infamous of these cures are antineoplastons, developed by Stanislaw Burzynski, who spent decades selling false hope to hundreds of victims.
Antineoplastons are small molecules developed by Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski that allegedly cures many forms of cancers. However, there is no reliable evidence for its effectiveness as a cancer treatment. Many patients who underwent antineoplaston therapy also experienced hypernatremia, a dangerous condition caused by high sodium levels in the blood that can lead to death.
Stanislaw Burzynski and Antineoplastons
What are Antineoplastons?
Stanislaw Burzynski was born in Poland in 1943. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and his MD at the Medical Academy in Lublin and obtained a medical license for the state of Texas in the United States.
In 1977, he opened the Burzynski Research Institute in the United States and became famous due to his claims of obtaining a universal cure for cancer. It is worth noting, however, that he never fulfilled the prerequisites of becoming a practicing oncologist.
During his time as a Ph.D. student, Burzynski came across some small molecules, which he called antineoplastons3. Antineoplastons (ANPs) are small peptides and amino acid derivatives that occur naturally in the body. According to Burzynski, ANPs defend our bodies from neoplastic (abnormal or excessive) cell growth.
ANPs supposedly inhibit DNA synthesis of abnormal cells (i.e., cancer cells) by turning on tumor suppressor genes and turning off cell growth genes13. Burzynski backed his claims by isolating, purifying and testing these molecules, claiming to have successfully proven their efficacy in vitro (outside a living organism)4.
Antineoplaston 10 (A10)
According to Stanislaw Burzynski, the isolated ANPs showed very low toxicity and promising anticancer effects in animal studies. He claimed that one of these—antineoplaston 10 (A10)—was able to cure many types of cancer.
After several years, Burzynski was able to synthesize the A10 molecule. Instead of extracting ANPs from human urine and blood, he could now produce it in sufficient quantity to be given to patients. He went on to publish many papers about their safety and efficacy, citing clinical ‘tests’ on animals.
In 1986, Burzynski went one step further, administering A10 to patients with cancer. He personally conducted the trial, reporting that A10 led to positive responses in 75% of patients5,6.
Over the years, Burzynski continued to publish ‘scientific’ data, supporting the safety (A10 treatment is ‘free of significant side effects’6) and efficacy (patients achieved partial to complete recovery from their cancers with long-term survival over five years12,13,14) of antineoplastons.
The Downfall of Burzynski and ANPs
Serious Violations of Medical Conduct
Although news outlets jumped on the ‘wonder drug’ bandwagon, medical professionals and scientists were skeptical. The research papers by Stanislaw Burzynski and his partners were the subjects of intense scrutiny, with many experts suspecting false data and serious medical violations in his clinical trials.
Several government-backed organizations, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), voiced their concerns about the safety of cancer patients who took antineoplastons like A10, launching independent investigations.
Separate FDA inspections in 2000 and 2013 unveiled several violations, which included patients not meeting the criteria for enrolment. The inspections also uncovered unethical practices by Burzynski and colleagues, including hiding adverse effects, falsifying success rates of ANPs and suspiciously missing MRI results.
The peer-review process was also brought into question, as the results that he did publish were in obscure journals that were not recognized by the wider scientific community.
Ignoring Hypernatremia in Patients
However, Stanislaw Burzynski wasn’t just responsible for poor experiment design and substandard reporting—his unethical practices also put patients’ lives at risk.
Antineoplastons must be dissolved in sodium salt as they are insoluble in water. The sodium salt helps the molecule dissolve before it is administered to patients intravenously (direct injection into the bloodstream). However, Burzynski—not being the best doctor—didn’t account for the high salt levels in his patients.
The high concentration of sodium salts used to dissolve ANPs also caused hypernatremia (excess sodium) in the blood of patients. Symptoms of hypernatremia include fatigue, lethargy, with serious cases leading to death. In Burzynski’s clinical experiments, his patients had sodium levels up to 202 mEq/L (milliequivalents per liter). This was indicative of severe cases of hypernatremia—the normal sodium range is between 135-145 mEq/L.
According to regulations, Burzynski should have halted all trials of ANPs. However, he chose to ignore this potentially fatal condition, putting patients’ lives at risk: hypernatremia has a mortality rate of 15-20 %7,8,9.
Final Nail in the ANP Coffin
Stanislaw Burzynski’s luck finally ran out in 2013. A 6-year-old patient, Josia Cotto, was undergoing ANP treatment for an inoperable brain tumor when he suddenly became unresponsive before dying not long after. The cause of death? Hypernatremia.
The ANP treatment he was receiving caused exceedingly high levels of salt in his blood. His blood sodium level was 205 mEq/L at the time of death, in the range of severe hypernatremia. But Josia’s death is just a single case of Burzynski’s victims. The website ‘The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group‘ tells the stories of countless patients whose treatment ended in disaster, just like Josia.
It was this case that prompted the FDA to launch their 2013 investigation of the Burzynski clinic, uncovering the serious medical and safety violations. In their report, they found that ANP treatment caused 108 of such overdoses across 48 patients in a prior trial conducted at the clinic7.
Why Do People Still Seek ANP Therapy?
Many cancer therapies are inherently dangerous (they destroy cells in our bodies). However, the benefits outweigh the risks on these occasions. The same cannot be said of antineoplaston therapies.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) hired third-party sources to test the drug, concluding that ANPs like A10 caused no tumor regression but instead caused hypernatremia and other adverse effects that only resolved after discontinuing the treatment10,11. With ANP therapy both unsafe and ineffective, why do some groups still seek it out?
All About Money For Stanislaw
The problem that we face, however, is that a huge financial house has been built on the paradigm of purging the body of cancer cells. Burzynski’s discovery means that the foundation, the walls … and the roof of that house, need to be replaced. You’ve got all this stuff in the war on cancer. And it’s trillions of dollars.
Dr. Julian Whitaker, fellow practitioner of alternative medicine
Asked why antineoplastons are not approved to save millions of lives, Burzynski accuses the FDA and pharmaceutical companies of actively trying to sabotage him. They maintain a ‘monopoly over medicine’, especially cancer medicine, as their own drugs would allegedly be threatened by Burzynski’s discoveries15.
It’s complete irony that many of these false doctors like Burzynski accuse the FDA and pharmaceutical companies of blocking availability of drugs for financial gain when in reality, alternative medicine is driven solely by money.
Burzynski charged his patients hundreds of thousands of dollars each, whether or not the treatment was effective. In the case of Josia Cotto, his family had paid the full $25,000 upfront; it is not known if they received the money back after his death16.
Why was Stanislaw Burzynski so successful in selling his false cancer cures? If ANPs actually cured cancer, surely the world would have stood up and taken notice?
The Power of Burzynski’s Supporters
For decades, antineoplaston therapy survived ethics and safety violations lawsuits despite backlash from the medical and scientific community. Each time, it was the cancer survivors—Burzynski’s self-proclaimed ‘living proof’ of the effectiveness of ANP therapy—who came to his rescue.
These staunch supporters supported Burzynski and his treatment methods, with some even testifying for him when he was on trial for fraud in the 1990s.
One of the most well-known testimonies came from the father of Crystin Shiff, a 6-year-old child suffering from a highly malignant brain tumor. Her father, a police veteran, claims that Crystin was on the road to recovery thanks to antineoplaston therapy, sadly passing away due to the damage that was caused by prior chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
This was in line with Burzynski’s modus operandi. If patients taking antineoplastons developed serious side effects or died, Burzynski would blame either:
The patient’s concurrent or prior use of traditional chemotherapy and radiation, or
Their delay in seeking out ANP therapy
If the patient recovered, however, it was becuase of ANP therapy. Convenient, isn’t it?
Fueled by the Media
The media is widely to blame for propagating this as a ‘medical miracle’, with Stanislaw Burzynski as their golden boy. Multiple stories by news outlets increased the hype surrounding ANPs by reporting on patients who were taking the treatment.
They were quick to interview survivors and supporters of Burzynski, with the doctor himself being invited to speak on various news programs and television shows. Even more enticing for news outlets was the chance to paint him as a brave maverick doctor, using his passionate accusations against pharmaceutical companies and governments as media fuel.
Exploiting Patient Desperation
What makes antineoplastons so different from alternative medicines such as aromatherapy and alkaline water is that it was subject to clinical ‘tests’, with Stanislaw Burzynski publishing many papers about their safety and efficacy. His authority as a doctor and scientist blinded patients into falling for his scam.
Burzynski knew that his therapy was ineffective; he never filed for FDA drug approval of antineoplastons. Instead, he chose to operate in the grey area of supplements, such that ANP therapy was not considered a drug by the FDA and hence not subject to their strict regulations16.
His most vulnerable patients helped him keep up his façade, driven to desperation and feeling let down by conventional medicine. The Burzynski clinic targets children with terminal cancers, knowing that their parents would pay any amount if it meant giving their kids a fighting chance.
Stanislaw Burzynski exploits the desperation of patients in need of a miracle for personal financial gain. In this regard, his scam is perhaps not the sale of false cures, but rather of false hope.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski (1976). Antineoplastons: A Biochemical Defense against Cancer. Physiological Chemistry and Physics, Vol. 8, Nr. 3.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski (1986). Antineoplastons: History of the Research (I). Drugs under experimental and clinical research, Suppl. 1, XII, 1-9.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski, E. Kubove (1986). Toxicology Studies on Antineoplaston A10 Injections in Cancer Patients. Drugs under experimental and clinical research, Suppl. 1, XII, 47-55.
Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration (2013). Inspectional Observations (Stanislav R. Burzynski, M.D., Ph.D., Clinical Investigator). 03/15/2013.
Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration (2000). Inspectional Observations (Carlton F. Hazlewood, Burzynski Research Inst. Chairman). 09/13/2000.
Navid Mahabadi, Srividya Naganathan, Mohammed A. Al-Dhahir. (Updated 2019 Jul 16). Hypernatremia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing;
National Cancer Institute (Updated 2019 Aug 15). Antineoplastons (PDQ?)?Health Professional Version.
Jan C. Buckner, Mark G. Malkin, Eddie Reed, Terrence L. Cascino, Joel M. Reid, Matthew M. Ames, William P. Y. Tong, Silam Lim, William Figg (1999). Phase II Study of Antineoplastons A10 (NSC 648539) and AS2-1 (NSC 620261) in Patients with Recurrent Glioma. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 74:137-145.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski, Rober I. Lewy, Robert A. Weaver, Maxwell L. Axler, Tomasz J. Janicki, Gabor F. Jurida, Jaroslaw K. Paszkowiak, Barbara G. Szymkowski, Mohammed I. Khan, Mark Bestak (2003). Phase II study of antineoplaston A10 and AS2-1 in patients with recurrent diffuse intrinsic brain stem glioma: A preliminary report. Drugs in R&D, 4(2): 91-101.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski (2004). The Present State of Antineoplaston Research (I). Integrative Cancer Therapies, 3(1): 47-58.
Stanislaw R. Burzynski, Robert A. Weaver, Tomasy Janicki, Barbara Szymkowski, Gabor Jurida, Mohammed Khan, Vsevolod Dolgopolov (2005). Long-term Survival of High-Risk Pediatric Patients With Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumors Treated with Antineoplastons A10 and AS2-1. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 4(2): 168-177.
Merola Productions (2016). Burzynski: The Cancer Cure Cover-Up.
Liz Szabo (2014). Doctor accused of selling false hope to families. USA Today.
About the Author
Katharina was a science writer at FTLOScience from July 2018 to October 2019.