David Holland, MD
I recently spoke with a nurse who was diagnosed, as an adult, with
leukemia. She endured the chemotherapy regimen her doctors prescribed,
only to suffer from a secondary fungal infection during that time.
The intensity and duration of the antifungal treatment rivaled that
of the chemotherapy. At any rate, she recovered from both afflictions
and went back to work.
Later, as a result of another workup -- which included a liver
biopsy -- for some returning symptoms she had, bad news was again
brought up. "Your leukemia has returned," her oncologist
told her, and he proceeded to lay out the next line of chemotherapy
drugs she would have to take.
Given that her chances of dying were much higher now that her cancer
had returned, she opted to get a second opinion on her biopsy before
proceeding with her next round of chemotherapy. She took her tissue
sample to another hospital, and what she was told there was absolutely
stunning: "You don't have leukemia," remarked the pathologist,
"what you have is a fungal infection!"
The scenario that her doctors figured was that her previous fungal
infection had returned -- a total possibility. But for this nurse,
more questions were raised. She thought, for example, "If they
diagnosed my fungal infection as leukemia this time, is it possible
that they were wrong the FIRST time? Was my leukemia really a fungal
infection to begin with, and was my so-called 'secondary' fungal
infection I had earlier really a full-blown manifestation of what
originally might have looked like leukemia?"
Of course, she would never get answers to these questions, for
to fully investigate thoughts like these might imply that a diagnostic
error was made on the part of either her initial oncologist or pathologist.
Nevertheless, an intense six months later -- some of it spent in
the hospital -- of high-dose, powerful antifungals finally achieved
a cure for her fungal infection. Today, she is again back at work,
exuding more than ever with compassion for her patients. It really
struck me when she told me where she works, because in her case,
her occupation may very well relate to what she had suffered over
the past two years. It turns out that she works at a bone-marrow
transplant center, and is in daily contact with children with leukemia.
Now, the thought of her "acquiring" something as grave
as leukemia would almost be preposterous to some. But the temptation
to scratch our heads and wonder about this is unbearable. What if
she really did have a fungal infection -- and NOT leukemia -- her
first time around? And if so, did she "catch" this from
her precious little patients?
Fungal infections not only can be extremely contagious, but they
also go hand in hand with leukemia -- every oncologist knows this.
And these infections are devastating: once a child who has become
a bone marrow transplant recipient gets a "secondary"
fungal infection, his chances of living, despite all the antifungals
in the world, are only 20%, at best.
And then the unthinkable thought arises: what if all of these children
didn't even have leukemia, but rather a fungal infection, just as
this nurse did? If doctors, in the 21st century, could mistake a
fungal infection for leukemia in this nurse, could the same fate
have fallen upon these children?
Doctors in general are not very good at diagnosing fungal infections
because their medical school training is based so heavily on the
role of bacteria and viruses in the area of infectious diseases.
Fungi have been a forgotten foe ever since the advent of antibiotics.
Once we had a drug that could kill bacteria, the interest in and
the study of fungi fell to the wayside.
Laboratories display the same difficulty in diagnosing fungal infections:
current tests for detecting the presence of fungi are both terribly
scant and sorely antiquated.
Despite these training and technical inadequacies, there have been
at least a few good reports that implicate the role of fungi in
For example, in 1999 Meinolf Karthaus, MD, watched three different
children with leukemia suddenly go into remission upon receiving
a triple antifungal drug cocktail for their "secondary"
Pre-dating that, Mark Bielski stated back in 1997 that leukemia,
whether acute or chronic, is intimately associated with the yeast,
Candida albicans. (2)
Finally, almost 50 years ago, Dr. J. Walter Wilson, in his textbook
of clinical mycology, said that "it has been established that
histoplasmosis and such reticuloendothelioses as leukemia, Hodgkin's
disease, lymphosarcoma, and sarcoidosis are found to be coexistent
much more frequently than is statistically justifiable on the basis
of coincidence." (3)
Histoplasmosis is what we call an "endemic" fungal infection.
It is most commonly acquired in regions surrounding the Ohio and
Mississippi river valleys in the United States. One becomes ill
by merely inhaling the tiny fungal spores of this fungus. Three similar reports like this over the span of 40 years should
convince us to at least study the role of fungi in cancers like
leukemia a little more thoroughly.
The late Milton White, MD., did exactly this. He fully believed
that cancer is a "chronic, intracellular, infectious, biologically
induced spore (fungus) transformation disease." (4) Using the
proper isolation techniques (involving saline instead of formaldehyde
as a tissue transportation medium between the operating room and
the pathology lab), he was able to find fungal spores in every sample
of cancer tissue he studied. His lifetime work has been routinely
dismissed as nothing more than an unproven postulate.
Regardless, wouldn't you expect all of this information to make
front-page headlines in every newspaper across the country, if not
the world? Instead, every one of these findings was merely a brief
mention -- only curious thoughts that one might entertain but never
The fact is, if leukemia and fungal infections "co-exist"
so frequently, and if an antifungal drug cocktail effectively cured
at least these three children of their leukemia, then I say we put
the brakes on right there. Is there a need to go any farther, except
to more deeply investigate the need for antifungals in treating
leukemia and not just the secondary infections that arise in the
course of chemotherapy?
In his book, The
Germ that Causes Cancer, author and television host Doug Kaufmann
asserts that not only fungi, but also foods play a role in the etiology
of cancer. He has seen children become free of their documented
leukemia once the child's parents simply changed the child's diet.
Kaufmann's diet is base on the widely-published problem of mycotoxin
contamination of our grain foods.
Grains such as corn, wheat, barley, sorghum, and other foods such
as peanuts, are commonly contaminated with cancer-causing fungal
poisons, or "mycotoxins." (5,6) One of them, called aflatoxin,
just happens to be the most carcinogenic substance on earth. If
this is indeed a problem, Kaufmann asserts, then cereal for breakfast
and soda pop for dinner may not be conducive to a cancer-free lifestyle.
A case in point: in a grain-based diet, we consume, on average,
from 0.15mg to 0.5mg of aflatoxin per day. (7) Further, he states,
it is not the sugar alone that is the problem in our western diet,
but the fungal toxins that are found in the sugary grains. More
than once has Kaufmann interviewed a caller (on his health talk
show) who absolutely craved peanut butter and popcorn just prior
to their diagnosis of cancer.
Fungi are such a nuisance in carbohydrate foods in particular because
fungi need carbohydrates to thrive. Therefore, it is rarer to see
fungal contamination problems in foods like vegetables and high-protein
Kaufmann goes on further to explain how even antibiotics may play
a role in the disease process. Antibiotics destroy the normal, protective
gut bacteria, allowing intestinal yeast and fungi to grow unchecked.
These internal, gut yeast make toxins, too. This can lead to immune
suppression, symptoms of any autoimmune disease, or even cancer.
"If the onset of any symptom or disease- cancer included- was
preceded by a course of antibiotics," he maintains, "then
look for a fungus to be at the root of your problem."
David Holland, MD
Co-author, The Fungus Link, Infectious
20 May 2003
Karthaus, M. Treatment of fungal infections led to leukemia remissions.
Sept. 28, 1999
Bielski: Boyd, W. Introduction to medical science. 1937. Lea &
Febiger. Philadelphia, PA.
Wilson, J.W. Clinical and immunological aspects of fungus diseases.
1957. Charles C. Thomas. Springfield, IL.
White, M.W. Medical Hypotheses. 1996;47,35-38
Mycotoxins: Risks in Plant, Animal, and Human Systems. The Council
for Agricultural Science and Technology. Task Force Report No.
139. Jan 2003. Ames, IA.
Etzel, R.A. Mycotoxins. Jan 23, 2002. 387(4). Journal of the American
Cheeke, P.R. Natural toxicant in feeds, forages, and poisonous
plansts. 1998. Interstate Publishers, Inc. Danville, IL.