History of Cancer

The history of science is the history of struggle against entrenched error.

This is the claim of G. Edward Griffin in his book, World without Cancer, a source which I would like to acknowledge as the chief inspiration for this article. It is not an outlandish claim by any means; from doctors being fired for requiring their staff to wash their hands, to the idea of vaccines being offhandedly rejected, history is replete with examples.

Perhaps most astonishing of all is the story of scurvy. Up until two hundred years ago, scurvy epidemics regularly decimated entire crews of ships. The British Navy recorded over one million sailor deaths due to scurvy between 1600 and 1800 alone. Scurvy is an extraordinarily painful disease causing bleeding from the nostrils, mouth, ears, and even the skin. For hundreds of years, scientists searched in vain for its cause, thinking that it was some sort of virus that lived in the dark holds of ships.

Then, in 1535, a French explorer got his ship stuck in a sheet of frozen ice by the St. Lawrence River. Before long, scurvy began to kill his crew off one by one. Twenty-five died, and many more were on their deathbeds until a friendly Native American showed them the simple cure — a drink made of tree bark that is rich in vitamin C. When the sailors returned to Europe, they offered their story to the medical establishment, but the leading scientists would have nothing of what they smugly referred to as “simple witchcraft from savages.” It wasn’t until two hundred years later that a surgeon in the British navy made the same discovery. He noticed that oranges and lemons produced relief from scurvy and recommended that the British Navy include citrus fruits in their food supplies.

But the scientific community still didn’t bite! They scoffed at the idea of something as simple as nutrition being able to put an end to one of the most torturous diseases in human history. It took another half-century before the medical establishment finally advised the navy to stock ships with foods rich in vitamin C, but in the meantime, thousands more perished because of medical arrogance. When the Brits finally wised up, they became a naval power that was unrivaled by all other sea-faring nations. The British became known as “Limeys” because of the limes they once stocked on their ships to prevent scurvy. It is no exaggeration to say that the empire on which the sun never set was largely built as a result of overcoming scientific prejudice against vitamin therapy.

That may be history, but it’s not all in the past; pellagra offers a similar story. In 1914, a doctor proved that it was a disease caused by a vitamin B deficiency, but it still took another thirty years for the medical establishment to accept the vitamin theory of pellagra as legitimate medicine! It is an unfortunate fact of history, that science has a strange aversion to nutrition as valid medicine.