Chris Wark is one of the most prominent figures in the alternative medicine cybersphere. He has a huge social media following, and he’s appeared on just about every quack or crank website and documentary you can think of. A few notable examples include: Flipping the Script: Parents Fight Back, The Truth About Cancer, and The C Word. Wark recently published his book Chris Beat Cancer: A Comprehensive Guide to Healing Naturally, which is what I want to talk about today. Wark was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2003 and underwent surgery. Wark chose to refuse adjuvant chemotherapy, which significantly reduced his survival risk, and instead pursued alternative therapies, to which he attributes his survival rather than the surgery. While his survival after surgery was statistically probable, he insists that he wasn’t lucky or special and that the odds were stacked against him. As Dr. Gorski explains in his article “Chris Beat Cancer, but it wasn’t Quackery that Cured Him“, that simply isn’t true:
In both cases, with surgery alone, Mr. Wark’s odds of surviving five years are around 64%. That’s pretty good for such advanced disease, but we can do better. 5-FU-based chemotherapy regimens increase those odds by around 12% to a 76% chance of surviving five years. FOLFOX, as you can see, does even better, increasing the odds of surviving five years by around 16%, all the way to 80%. Since colon cancer, unlike, for example, breast cancer, rarely recurs after five years, five-year survival rates in colon cancer are pretty close to equivalent to the chances of being “cured” of colon cancer. So basically, by eschewing chemotherapy, Mr. Wark decreased his chances of surviving his disease by approximately 12-16%
Wark isn’t a doctor or have any scientific education, he has a bachelor’s degree in marketing. While such a background probably wouldn’t prepare you to understand basic physics, I imagine it would be very helpful if you were looking to make millions of dollars through a large affiliate marketing network. Wark’s comprehensive guide is little more basic common sense dietary and lifestyle advice coupled with copious amounts of pseudoscience, fear mongering, and a dash of victim blaming.
Cancer isn’t a man-made illness
After telling his story in the opening chapter of the book, Wark attempts to set up his key premise in the second chapter titled “Survival of the Sickest”. Wark aims to convince readers that cancer is a made-made illness: the result of sedentary lifestyles, poor dieting decisions, and GMOs. The chapter begins with him citing a perspectives piece published in Nature back in 2010 titled “Cancer: an old disease, a new disease or something in between?“. The authors summarize numerous historical accounts of cancer using both historical texts, histological studies of rehydrated mummy tissues, and examination of skeletal remains. The authors explain that very few malignancies were identified using rehydrated mummy tissues; only a few benign neoplasms, and a rectal cancer in an Egyptian mummy. It was the first cancer to be identified in a mummy using this technique. Does that mean cancer is a man-made disease that’s purely the result of our way of life in 2019? Of course not, as an article from the UK Cancer Research Society’s site explains in-depth. Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer, and according to the Facts and Figures report by the American Cancer Society over 87% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are in people over the age of 50. The very article that Wark references states: “…together with the paleopathological evidence, confirms that the average lifespan of the wealthier classes was between 40 and 50 years, and a lower age-at-death between 25 and 30 years is shown in paleopathological studies of non-elite groups.”. Bottom line: cancer isn’t a new thing (dinosaurs got cancer), it’s not always the result of lifestyle, but a combination of risk factors, genetics, and time.
Wark spends the rest of the chapter discussing the many causes of cancer, some of which are real, some not so much. But you don’t need to learn that obesity, smoking, and HPV increase your cancer risk from a guy that will also tell you that coffee enemas fight cancer (wrong!). Wark claims that glyphosate causes cancer, when numerous studies have shown there is no association between glyphosate exposure and cancer. It sounds plausible because of a recent lawsuit against Monsanto where the plaintiff claimed glyphosate caused his cancer and won, but juries don’t decide science. He also claims that genetically modified foods “have been shown to be hazardous to the people and animals that eat them”, but doesn’t actually bother to cite any peer-reviewed research to back his claim (wrong!). The chapter is rife with examples like this, and I simply don’t have time to go through every single one.
One of the more ridiculous examples is cheese, which Wark implies should be avoided because it contains sodium aluminum phosphate. He claims that sodium aluminum phosphate has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the CDC, there is conflicting evidence that high levels of aluminum exposure can cause Alzheimer’s. There’s also no link between aluminum exposure and cancer, and Wark doesn’t even try to draw a connection between the two. Aluminum sodium phosphate is used in many baked goods as a leavening agent, and the National Library of Medicine states that it is not classifiable as a carcinogen. There are many other ridiculous examples and I have to assume he put some of these things in the book to inflate the page length like a college senior on a final paper. Wark provides a ridiculously long list of things that he believes are carcinogens, to the degree that it would be impossible to avoid all of them. This would probably leave the reader with the question: “Other than the obvious things, what do I need to prioritize avoiding?” A question for which the book provides no answers. But that’s the whole point.
The beat cancer victim blaming mentality
After spending almost half of the book trying to convince you cancer is entirely your fault, and that you should listen to him, the “comprehensive guide” begins with the “Beat Cancer Mindset”. The chapter begins with Wark retelling the time when he met with a structural integration practitioner three months after he was diagnosed with cancer. The practitioner asked him a question that surprised and scared him: “Before we get started, I need to know if you really want to live”. He pondered this, wondering if his cancer was “a manifestation of years of painful insecurity and mental and emotional self-sabotage”. The idea that cancer is affected by your emotional state somehow has come up on SBM before. In short: cancer doesn’t care about your feelings. While I would normally invoke Hitchen’s razor, that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, I actually have evidence that cancer isn’t caused by crippling insecurity. Harley Davidson’s entire marketing strategy is centered around building long-term relationships with customers, and I’m unable to find any evidence that Harley owners get cancer at rates higher than the general population (also, wrong!).
Despite no evidence that one’s emotions don’t cause or help treat cancer, Wark believes it is the most important part of beating cancer. Chris tells a classy story that reflects well on him to demonstrate why the “Beat Cancer Mindset” is so important. His cousin Jeff was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with a prognosis of only six months to live. Jeff accepted his fate, and also refused to try the natural and alternative treatments Wark and his mother suggested. He rightly believed there was no evidence that they would work, and would likely be a waste of time and money. He died a few months later, and Wark came to this conclusion as to why he survived but his cousin didn’t:
As I thought about my cousin’s cancer experience and reflected on the path he chose, I’ve come to realize that he was right. He and I are different. Introspection does not come naturally to me (clearly), but as I began to teach others about health, nutrition, healing and survival, I was often asked why I made the decisions I made and I was forced to self-analyze. It was the difference I adopted, which was born out of my determination to get well and to live.
This is the definition of survivorship bias; Chris is attributing his success and his cousins failure to something that really had no impact. But as you’ll recall from Dr. Gorski’s post:
Mr. Wark had an estimated 30-64% chance of being “cured” of his cancer by surgery alone. However, those odds aren’t good enough. Why should they be, when we can make them significantly better with chemotherapy?
You might be wondering, what’s the harm in the feel-good self-help advice? When the chapter’s 12 page-length isn’t covering the same ideas as Shia LeBeouf did in a little over a minute, it amounts to victim blaming. There are five components to the “Beat Cancer Mindset”:
- Accept total responsibility to your health
- Be willing to do whatever it takes
- Take massive action
- Make plans for the future
- Enjoy life and the process
These all are nice platitudes, but they’re all oblivious the realities of cancer and cancer treatment. While there are many factors that we can control that change one’s risk of getting cancer, you can still get cancer as a result of genetics or just plain bad luck. However, Wark claims that it’s important to accept the blame of bad health decisions they may or may not have made over the course of their life in order to take control of their lives for the better. Who can help them with this undertaking? Chris Wark and his $200 cancer coaching series!
Take out the trash? I’ll pass
One of the later chapters is titled, “Take Out the Trash” where Wark recommends limiting your exposure to things that pose absolutely no cancer risk or so minimal they’re not even worth considering. For instance, Wark claims that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can increase cancer risk:
Two pooled studies and a meta-analysis found a 1.4 to 2-fold increase in risk of leukemia in children exposed to electromagnetic fields.
The NIH states that “for the two pooled studies and the meta-analysis, the number of highly exposed children was too small to provide stable estimates of the dose-response relationship. This means that the findings could not be interpreted to reflect linear increases in risk”, and Wark admits this later in the section. No mechanism has been discovered by which non-ionizing EMFs could damage DNA and cause cancer. Despite no evidence that EMFs have any negative health effects, Wark still recommends limiting exposure by not charging your phone near your nightstand, replacing fluorescent bulbs with LED bulbs, and using a gauss meter to check your house for EMF “hot spots” to limit your exposure. If you’re a bit confused about the technical details, fear not. He has a lengthy blog post explaining both the supposed “dangers” of EMF exposure, in addition to special links to helpful products such as gauss meters and fear-mongering books about the dangers of EMFs. Those links also make him money when you buy the products. Does he disclose this fact? Of course not.
Wark also implies that cell phones cause brain cancer, despite no good evidence that’s the case. We’ve discussed the non-link between cell-phones and cancer multiple times on SBM: there’s just no link. Wark states that according to data from the National Cancer Institute there has been no increase in brain or central nervous system cancers between 1992 and 2015, and if cell phones caused those types of cancers we would see an increase in proportion to the increase in cell phone usage. So case closed right? Of course not, that would be just too sensible. Wark still advises caution because the World Health Organization has classified cell phone use as potentially carcinogenic for no reason. He recommends not putting the phone up to your face and instead using speakerphone or earbuds. My main issue is that he could convince people to use speaker phone for cell phone calls in public places, because we really need more of that, and it won’t prevent cancer.
In the section titled “Clean Our Your Cleaning Supplies”, Wark recommends avoiding laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and household cleaning products. Wark cites a 2018 study published in American Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that looked at spirometry data for 6,231 people over 20 years, and found that women who responsible for cleaning at home or occupational cleaners had declining respiratory function. There was no such association between increased respiratory decline and cleaning in men. While the evidence is far from conclusive by itself, Wark presents the study’s findings as “women who reported using cleaning products at least once per week in their home or cleaned professionally for 20 years had substantial lung damage, equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day”. While the study found that the respiratory decline was similar to that of women who smoked, it’s still not the same as damage that would be caused from smoking 20 cigarettes a day. The study also found that cleaning activities were not statistically associated with COPD, but smoking is the leading cause of COPD.
Wark claims that laundry detergents and dryer sheets can also be “polluting” and that an analysis of gases produced by laundry machines found more than 25 volatile organic compounds including known carcinogens such as benzene and acetylaldehyde. The problem with Wark’s reasoning here is that any exposure to said exhaust is very low amount, so low it’s not even worth considering. While I’m sure he almost certainly has someone else do his laundry for him (I would too if I had that kind of money), I’m sure he realizes that dryer vents exist. Furthermore, most people don’t have their laundry machines located anywhere near where they would be around to inhale high concentrations of those chemicals. He still recommends that you replace them with organic cleaning products. Products for which there doesn’t seem to be any evidence they wouldn’t release the same type of carcinogenic chemicals when put in the drying machine anyway.
Dubious dieting advice
Wark’s nutrition advice is all over the place in this book. In addition to advising readers to avoid just about anything that isn’t GMO-free organic kale, he recommends regular fasting. According to him, this causes the body to enter a state of ketosis and cancer cells will keep trying to grow without food, grow weak, and die. This theory doesn’t hold much weight when you consider that your body is just going to get its fuel from fat, which would also feed said cancer cells. It’s also quite silly considering Wark despises the ketogenic diet, the entire goal of which is to put the body into a state of ketosis. There’s not enough evidence to support the claim that fasting prevents or treats cancer, and the same is true of the ketogenic diet. There have been numerous studies looking at fasting as a potential strategy to aide in the treatment of certain cancers. While there have been some positive results, the media has hyped up fasting far, far more than it deserves. As one correspondence published in 2016 in Nature Reviews Cancer explains:
Over the past year, only one pilot crossover trial in 34 patients with gynaecological cancer receiving chemotherapy showed that quality of life impairment was lower during STF [short-term fasting] than in non-fasted periods. Larger studies to prove the effect of STF as an adjunct to chemotherapy have been lacking, and the need for larger studies has been stressed by several reviews published in the past 8 years
The authors continue, stating that the media has blown the results of such preliminary studies to such a degree that fast-mimicking diet kits are already being commercialized and sold. They also point out that trials looking at fasting or fast-mimicking diets exclude patients with lower body weights or patients who have experienced unintentional weight loss. This is a pretty big issue because there is a very high prevalence of sarcopenic obesity and malnutrition in cancer patients. The prevalence of sarcopenic obesity and malnutrition can be as high as 80% in patient groups depending on tumor stage and site. Furthermore, fasting can have health risks, and these risks pose much more of a threat to someone with cancer in treatment. If someone is suffering from sarcopenia or malnutrition while being treated for cancer and they attempt a fasting diet, they would continue to lose muscle mass at an increased rate which would not only lower their quality of life but put them at a higher risk of dying.
Outside of fasting, Wark recommends a plant-based based diet going so far as to say that the “anti-cancer diet” is a plant-plant based or vegan diet. While there is good evidence that reducing the amount of red meat in your diet could have protective effects against some types of cancer, it will only reduce your cancer risk, not eliminate it. Wark really stretches the truth when he claims: “One significant anti-cancer effect of a whole-foods, plant-based diet appears to be its ability to insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the body…a growth hormone directly linked to uncontrolled cancer growth”. Wark cites a study that he reports found that breast cancer patients who ate a “whole foods”, plant-based diet for two weeks had lower-levels of IGF-1 in their blood. Wark seriously misrepresents the study as the subjects were not breast cancer patients, they were all overweight, post-menopausal women and they also participated in an exercise program. The link between elevated IGF-1 and breast cancer exists but it’s just one of many risk factors, and the drop in IGF-1 could’ve been attributable to either the diet change, the exercise program, or both.
Another “benefit” of a plant-based diet for cancer that he touts is the restriction of the amino acid methionine, on which many cancer cells are dependent. The problem here is that normal cells also need methionine, and you have to get it through your diet. As you can probably guess, meat has a high amount of methionine, and fruits and vegetables have relatively low amounts. Just because certain foods are high in methionine doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. One pseudoscientific diet focused around methionine restriction is the NORI protocol which Dr. Gorski covered in May. While there is some preclinical evidence (cell culture and rodent studies) that methionine restriction could have some role in treating cancer, there haven’t been any studies in humans showing that it works. Wark twists the findings of studies and preclinical evidence to overstate the benefits of a vegan diet. While it might be a good idea to reduce your red meat intake, it is not the magic cancer shield he claims it to be.
Making a killing
If you read Science-Based-Medicine a lot, you’re probably a bit confused right now. Why would I cover this book, of all things? This book is, if you’ll excuse my choice of words: benign. It’s just a conglomeration of myths about cancer that have been debunked on this blog and other reputable sites dozens of times. That’s just the problem; it’s not about what Wark recommends in this book. It’s about what he doesn’t recommend, but has in the past and presumably still does recommend. Wark has promoted basically every debunked diet and therapy you can think of such as the Gerson Therapy, the Alkaline diet, IV vitamin C, black salve, laetrile, the list goes on and on.
The book fails as both a comprehensive guide to beating cancer, and as a guide. This book isn’t a guide, it’s a propaganda piece designed to set up false premises in the minds of unaware or uninformed viewers to lead them through to a singular conclusion: that doctors cannot be trusted because they only want to make money and that chemotherapy hasn’t improved – neither of which are true. That cancer is purely the result of lifestyle, diet and that preventing cancer is entirely within one’s own control; it’s not. That if readers can just change their lifestyle, diet and just have the correct mindset – they too can beat any cancer. Wark wants to convince readers that diet, exercise, and pure will alone are a sword that can cut through any cancer or disease. That he, and he alone can be their Syrio Forel. But in reality: he’s Petyr Baelish.
The advice in the “guide” portion of the book is noticeably lacking in details, it’s confusing and even contradicts itself at points. Wark detests the ketogenic diet, but also promotes fasting because it causes the body to enter a state of ketosis. He admits that there is no evidence to support the idea that Wi-Fi causes cancer but still advises that you should turn your Wi-Fi off at night for some reason. But that’s all by design, it’s meant to confuse readers. He wants readers to read his website, purchase stuff from the referral links, and buy his $200 web series.
One of the book’s chapters is titled “It’s not like I need your business”; but he really, really does. There’s a small skeptic YouTuber I’ve been following for a few months now, AddictedToIgnorance, who has made numerous hard-hitting videos about Chris Wark and the things he’s uncovered are truly shocking. Wark hired a company called East 5th Avenue to increase his sales of his Square One cancer coaching program and he brought in 2.5 million from the launch of Square One alone. That was before the book release. That doesn’t even include the revenue he gets from affiliate links on his site, but with his large social media we can safely assume that is a healthy revenue stream. Not only does Wark have stuff to sell you, he’s getting rich from it.
That’s not all AddictedToIgnorance has uncovered however, he also reviewed every single testimonial on Chris Wark’s Youtube channel and determined whether each person was alive, sold supplements or other alternative medicine services, actually had a confirmed diagnosis of cancer, and more. One example is the testimonial of Carla Camarillo, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2015, and believed she was completely cured without using chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. Carla appeared in a testimonial on not only Chris Wark’s website, but in the quackumentary Cancer Can Be Killed as well. But if you search Wark’s website or Youtube channel, you will find her video noticeably absent. The reason is because according to a Youtube comment from one of her friends, she passed away in 2017 a month after having surgery because “the tumor in her left breast was so large it was ready to protrude through the skin”. Upon learning this, Wark promptly removed all traces of her testimonial from his sites. Carla still had the video on her YouTube channel, which Wark took down with a copyright claim.
Wark spends nearly three chapters attempting to poison the well against modern medical science and medical professionals but while also claiming to be not be anti-medicine, or anti-chemotherapy. Chris Wark wants you to see him as just an innocent guy who survived cancer “naturally” and is trying to preach the good word of alternative cancer treatments. But when you look behind the curtain, the goal of the book is becomes pretty clear. Chris Beat Cancer: A Comprehensive Guide to Healing Naturally is a propaganda piece designed to suck people into an affiliate network of quacks and cranks that will bleed desperate cancer patients dry with pricey, ineffective, and potentially dangerous cancer treatments. It has no place on anyone’s bookshelf.