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Almost a decade ago, within days of my father being diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor, I ran across a book by Professor Ben Williams PhD detailing his own battle against this same type of cancer. Ironically and fortuitously, Williams was a brain researcher working at UC San Diego, so he already knew quite a bit about brain biology. Williams’ tale of doggedly and resourcefully looking for a cure to his “terminal” cancer, knowing that the prognosis for newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients was just about 14 months, was exactly what I was looking for. My father died about 18 months after his diagnosis, but Williams survived his own glioblastoma, and a new documentary chronicles his story and the amazing research he pieced together.

Prof. Ben Williams

Prof. Ben Williams found a way to survive his own “terminal” cancer diagnosis.

Knowing the grim survival prognosis for glioblastoma, Prof. Williams immediately set about looking for additional ways he could treat his cancer, using his research skills to look up peer-reviewed, evidence-based approaches in PubMed, a government database of most medical studies. Almost immediately he began insisting that his oncologist add additional drugs to his treatment, inadvertently creating an early, ad-hoc cocktail cancer treatment in the process.

Most of the additional drugs Williams added to his regimen were “off-label”; they were FDA-approved for use in humans, but only for other diseases. To be approved for a particular disease, drugs usually need to go through pivotal Phase III trials which make use of a control group and hundreds of patients in order to establish a strong certainty of safety and efficacy. Unfortunately, Phase III trials are extremely expensive, as are the typical precursor Phase I and II trials. In 2014, an annual study from Tufts University stated that “developing a new prescription medicine that gains marketing approval, a process often lasting longer than a decade, is estimated to cost $2,558 million.” That’s over $2.5 billion, with a “B”.

Central to Professor Williams’ strategy was the notion of utilizing simultaneously a variety of non-toxic or low-toxic substances with non-overlapping mechanisms. In other words, Williams wanted to attack the cancer in as many different ways as possible, at the same time, without making himself too sick to be treated. Professor Williams and many oncologists view cancer as probabilistic—every evidence-based substance successfully added to a treatment regimen increases the probability that the cancer will successfully be treated. Many, many FDA-approved drugs have few or no adverse side-effects for most people.

Some of the off-label drugs Williams took included the acne drug Accutane and the antidepressant clomipramine. Accutane, or 13-cis-retinoic acid, is a powerful form of vitamin A which dries up your skin dramatically. Many retinoids like Accutane have anticancer properties. Clomipramine is an old tricyclic antidepressant whose main side-effect is sleepiness. Williams found both of these drugs cheaply in Mexico since they are both off patent. Williams also took, and continues to take, a wide variety of over the counter supplements, including fish oil, gamma-linolenic acid, lycopene, silibinin, curcumin, genistein, green tea, and melatonin.

The first part of Williams’ book Surviving Terminal Cancer centers on his diagnosis and treatment ordeal, emphasizing the need for patients to get up to speed on their treatment decisions so they can help advocate for the best treatment possible. The second half of his book, which he updates for free every year online, is an encyclopedia of drugs and food supplements with peer-reviewed evidence against cancer. The book should be required reading for cancer patients and their treatment teams, especially cancer patients with a Stage III or IV diagnosis.

A documentary premiered this month featuring Williams’ story, using the same title as his book, Surviving Terminal Cancer. Produced by Dominic Hill, the documentary is available to watch for free at SurvivingTerminalCancer.com. A trailer for the film can be viewed at: