The “spontaneous” remission of “incurable” cancer

Many people are unaware of the thousands of cases of cancers reported to have completely resolved and disappeared without any traditional medical curative therapy being involved.  This number is based on the published reports in the medical literature that are often well supported by careful and appropriate medical diagnostic studies.  These reports in the medical journals, though, probably represent only a minority of the cases that actually occur.  Reports of spontaneously resolving cancers began to appear as far back as cancer was recognized and first reported.  Reports continue to this day in modern medical journals on a regular basis.

I cannot recall any discussions of the spontaneous remission of cancer during my medical school training.  In fact, the way we were taught about the prognosis of various cancers, the obvious conclusion was that while there is some uncertainty about the length of survival in life-threatening cancers, certain malignancies are always fatal.  To this day, it is clear to me that most of my colleagues seem to be unaware of the extensive literature on spontaneous remission and do not allow for the possibility of spontaneous remission in their advice to their patients.  It is as if the phenomenon did not exist as far as traditional scientific medicine is concerned.  I would venture to say that it is unlikely that any course exists in any American medical school that explores this topic in any depth.

Given our traditional scientific bias toward physically describable  mechanisms of disease and cure, it seems this neglect is easy to understand.  Just like I concluded in a previous article on the “placebo effect,” the exploration of these cases of the resolution of untreated cancers can open up a powerful tool to understand human health and disease in more depth than our current understanding.  There is tremendous potential here for medical researchers to advance our scientific knowledge.  But in the meantime, there are also very significant potential benefits to the average lay reader, right here and right now, just by considering this information with an open mind.

The spontaneous remission of cancer has been reported in virtually every type of cancer known.  Some seem to remit much more frequently than others, but even the most deadly and the most widely disseminated and metastasized have been known to completely reverse themselves with no known effective medical therapy being utilized.  If you want to verify what I am relating here, or want to develop a much more in depth understanding, a great way to start is a scholarly book published in 1992 by Carlyle Hirshberg and Brendan O’Regan called: Spontaneous Remission.  (The complete text is freely available on line at:

Carlyle and O’Regan’s initial publication cited 1574 reports in the medical literature, some of which contained compilations of many cases.  Almost all of the early reports focused solely on physical factors to explain the remissions, such as changes in a person’s immune function as a result of a new bacterial infection.  More recent reports are increasingly including what are termed “psychosocial’ factors such as changes in the religious or spiritual beliefs.  In their conclusions to this extensive survey of the literature, though, the authors noted a very significant problem with this literature.  The reports that focused on physical factors were often very precise in defining the disease and proving its remission, but rarely included any assessment of mental or “psychosocial” factors.  Reports of the impact of psychosocial factors in the cancer disease process often failed to include adequate diagnostic verification to be persuasive.  The authors suggest that the lack of diagnostic evidence has caused most medical professionals to discount the somewhat startling reports in the psychological literature.  They call for a new approach to the reporting that includes both.

I have recently come across another scholarly work that begins to answer this call.  It is also well worth your time if you want to explore this topic in depth because it also contains a wealth of insights.  It is the written report from a Phd dissertation by Kelly Ann Turner at the Universityof California, Berkely.   (Spontaneous Remission of Cancer: Theories from Healers, Physicians and Cancer Survivors.  Available online at:  An important part of her research involved finding twenty individuals that have experienced a spontaneous remission of a cancer that was expected to be fatal.  In the majority of the cases, she was able to carefully confirm the diagnosis and the proof of its remission through discussions with the patient’s oncologists.  In addition, the survivors we interviewed in depth about their beliefs concerning their cancers, the changes in their lives as a result of their diagnosis and their efforts to control their disease.

Based on a careful reading of this dissertation, I do not see any indication of bias in the way the twenty cases were selected for her report.  She just searched for cases that matched her criteria for spontaneous remission and stopped the search when twenty cases were discovered and interviewed.  The lack of bias is very important in light of the psychological factors that were found within these twenty subjects.  I have treated many patients with cancer.  I have known very few with the emotional and psychological approaches to their diseases that Kelly Ann Turner reports.  (Although, the two patients that I can recall over the years with spontaneous remissions of cancer did fit the profiles she found.)  Clearly, based on her reports of these patients, many had a very spiritual approach to their lives or developed such an approach in response to their dismal diagnosis.  Most decided to take responsibility for their lives and refused to see themselves as a victim.  Many approached the changes they felt were necessary based on “intuitive” guidance to undertake changes in diet, seek out certain healers or begin to take certain supplements.

Just reading about these successful journeys in rising above predictions of suffering and early death could alter one’s view of the world.  Knowing that at least some people have been able to overcome what was presented to them as an unavoidable dismal prognosis can be very heartening.   I am not saying here that you should refuse effective treatments for cancer hoping for a spontaneous healing if you are faced with such a situation.  That would be foolish since these cases are clearly rare.  There are several messages, though, that I feel we can take away from these reports.  First, much more research into these phenomena is justified.  Second, if taking responsibility for one’s own health, adopting a more positive attitude and following one’s intuition can reverse some cases of “incurable” cancer, it is likely this guidance will help us prevent their appearance in our lives in the first place.  Finally, if you or someone you care about is faced with a situation where all hope of control of a cancer from currently available medical therapies is gone, the strategies reported to have worked with Kelly Ann Turner’s twenty cases of spontaneous remission are well worth studying when there is nothing to be lost and only gain is possible.


About Chuck Gebhardt

I am a physician specializing in internal medicine. I sub-specialize in nutritional medicine. I am very interested in all areas of healing research, not necessarily limited to traditional medicine topics.
This entry was posted in The healing power of the human mind and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The “spontaneous” remission of “incurable” cancer

  1. Mary O says:


    I have just read this article and it is refreshing to find a medical doctor who is so open-minded about alternative methods of healing. Other than my sister-in-law (thanks be to God) nobody else in my immediate family or extended family has been touched by cancer. I cannot say what my reaction would be if I was diagnosed with cancer but I can say that I take responsibility for my health and will never blindly follow any doctor’s advice. I would do research and make changes to my diet and first try alternative healing. I must add that although I believe that the body has the ability to heal itself, I also believe that sometimes it is the right time for a person to leave this life. If that is the case then nothing will cause the healing that they are seeking. It is not always in our hands but we have to do all we can because we do not know when it is our time to go.


    • Mary,

      The attitude you would take in being responsible to guide your own efforts at healing seems to be very much in line with the attitudes of the people who experienced “spontaneous healing.” I wrote this article to provide hope for people in desperate situations and to suggest that there is a lot of potential power virtually unused within our minds. Much more research should be conducted to explore the hints provided by the investigators I highlighted in this article.

      Many thanks for your wonderful comments, Mary,


  2. Pingback: Miraculous Healing, the Spontaneous Remission of Cancer, and Near Death Experiences | Dr. Chuck's Chat

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