Burzynski Patient Holly G.’s Story

Holly G. was an 11-year old girl with brain cancer (astrocytoma) when she left her home state of New Mexico in February of 2001 to go to the Burzynski Research Institute with her family for treatment. Burzynski’s antineoplastons would cost the family $20,000 up front and $9,800 every month thereafter. On the 1st of March, the paper back home, the Sangre De Christo Chronicle, gave an update about her progress and interviewed her father, who said that she was in a wheelchair with cerebral edema:

“‘With this type of tumor, sometimes that’s what happens. I see it as a temporary thing.’

Holly had an MRI […] Monday night and Ed said they would learn its results Tuesday.

[Holly’s dad] said the swelling may be caused by the tumor’s reaction to the treatment. ‘The swelling could be from tumor cell death. I’m waiting for an interpretation of the MRI. I’m waiting for the experts to tell me what they’re seeing. I think the treatment is working, that the tumor has reduced.'”

The paper also notes that “Holly is taking a diuretic and steroids ‘to reduce cranial inflammation.'”

This first report about Holly’s treatment is extremely telling. First off, they are speculating about the tumor already shrinking. Of course the father is clinging to that interpretation; how else does someone facing something so horrible keep it together? He is explaining in exactly the same terms that other Burzynski patients have reported excitedly. Take, for example, the report from the parents of Rory Z. (deceased):

“I am now an old pro at giving the Decadron…it’s amazing how things can change in 24 hours. I gave Rory his dose this evening…he started to eat dinner and w/in about 30 minutes he threw up again. Darn. Perhaps we have to wait longer until he eats? I talked to Marlene tonight before the Group Meeting…and she said vomiting isn’t that uncommon at first…they may increase the Decadron tomorrow. She explained that as the Antineoplastons turn off the cancer cells..they die…and the white blood cells rush to the area to clear out the dead cells. This causes swelling…which can cause the vomiting She said, unpleasant as it can be..it’s actually a good thing.”

Notice that Rory was on steroids (decadron), like Holly.

Another child’s father, Supatra A.’s (deceased) reported:

“We were told last Wednesday that as the antineoplastons work to kill the tumour cells it is normal for the brain tissue to swell with all the dead cells in there. This swelling is what creates the pressure and results in headaches and vomiting. If it occurs then we will start Supatra off on a low 0.5ml dose of Decadron steroid and increase as necessary.”

Again, decadron. Steroids suppress the immune system, including the inflammation response to tumor growth. In the brain stem, reducing that swelling (but not the tumor) might well lead to a slight perceived improvement in the symptoms like balance, breathing, and swallowing, which are rooted in the brain stem. This is exactly what happens to Holly and does not indicate that the tumor is shrinking.

Holly’s father, on the same page, reports that a 40% success rate has been given to him by the Clinic:

“Their big success rate is with these fast-growing cancers.”

This statement is not backed up by any clinical results. Burzynski has been known in the past to revise the definition of success in his favor. For instance, when the FDA inspected him last year they found that 60% of his outcomes were inflated, essentially all of his “positive” results in the sample.

The family’s hardships are heard by the state of New Mexico, and the legislature actually moves to pour money down Burzynski’s toilet, introducing bills that would put half a million dollars in emergency appropriations aside and would require “FDA-approved experimental treatments or procedures be covered by insurance.”

When Holly comes home in the March 29 edition, we see exactly the improvements we’d expect to see from high doses of steroids and we learn that the swelling was a side effect of the treatment (it does not sound like a sign of improvement):

“The treatments caused a few side effects — including cerebral edema, swelling in her brain which put her in a wheelchair, and made swallowing difficult and even led to a temporary respiratory arrest. ‘By no means is this treatment benign,’ said Holly’s father […]. She’s doing better than she was doing 2 or 3 weeks ago. Neurologically, certain functions are starting to return. She’s got some movement back in her arms and legs and she seems to be a little bit stronger. She can talk now, which is a big plus. The pressure seems to have been reduced. We’re still giving her medication ’round the clock.’

“Besides her antineoplaston treatments [Holly’s dad said] Holly is receiving other medications to help reduce the swelling on her brain and for other needs.” [emphasis added]

So she is still on steroids, and we see mild relief. For Burzynski, however, that’s not an encouraging sign. For instance, during last year’s inspection, the FDA noted,  “Burzynski had patients on steroid doses that were five to 64 times higher than the levels that doctors would expect patients to need.” This is a perverse finding. Nonetheless, it looks like antineoplastons nearly killed her, at least according to Holly’s father, a true believer.

In the same article, we get a rather equivocal report about her tumor:

“[Holly’s dad said her] last MRI showed 30 percent of the tumor may have died — ‘We’re not really sure.’ Holly will receive a second MRI in a week or two which, [her dad] hopes, ‘will be able to tell us more.'”

The line that “30% of the tumor may have died,” instantly raises red flags, and we only draw attention to it because we have read hundreds of abominable patient stories. They don’t say that it has shrunk. Burzynski’s patients are notorious for reporting that their tumors are dying on the inside and being excited about it. By far the most likely scenario is that it represents a tumor that has outgrown its blood supply. It’s a sign of progression, not improvement.

By this point, “Holly’s Bill” has passed the state legislature and is on its way to be signed by the governor.

On May 3, Holly is on life support. The paper reports that the tumor had previously shrunk, but that seems to be contradicted by the fact that a month later she is lying unresponsive in a hospital. Why do so many of Burzynski’s “improving” patients end up dead a few weeks later (hours later in the case of Andrea W.)? At any rate, what happens rate is infuriating:

“Although he pressed for the continuation of her Burzynski treatments, [Holly’s father] said the doctor refused, even told him, ‘This is just the natural progression of her disease.’ And he was pressured to take his daughter off life support.

“‘Now she’s fighting for her life because these guys wouldn’t do anything.’

“By Saturday, the hospital agreed to try the treatments and [Holly’s father] said, ‘Some of her neurological function has returned.’

“Now [her parents] are dealing with worry. They’re dealing with the fear a stubborn doctor may have cost their daughter’s life.”

We would be more confident that last statement was true if her physician had said it or if they reported she was off life support. She died on the 15th of May. It is difficult to reconcile the outcome and supposed improvement that her father reported.

For reliable information about clinical trials, visit to clinicaltrials.gov. Please contribute to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which cares for sick children even if they can’t pay. Unlike Burzynski.