"" Ralph Moss—Cancer Consultant: 2015-11-29

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Sam Donato, New Jersey mushroom hunter
(Photo © 2015 M. B. Moss)

Recently, I was on a site visit to the ProCure Proton Beam Therapy center in Somerset, NJ, when I took time out for a walk in that town’s magnificent Colonial Park. On one of the rambling paths through the woods my wife and I almost literally bumped into a local man. We got to talking and he identified himself as Sam Donato. He was now a published author and musician, but for most of his life had made his living as a truck driver and construction worker.

 My wife admired and commented on his corncob pipe. It turned out that not only his pipe, but his tobacco was homemade, in the latter case, grown and cured in central New Jersey! Sam informed us that he was out hunting for mushrooms, and one in particular, the “hen of the woods.” You can usually find them, he told us, growing at the base of oak trees between September and November.

I know “hen of the woods” well. Otherwise known as maitake (Grifola frondosa or Grifola umbellata, it is a mushroom of importance in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Like many mushrooms, it has both immune-stimulating and anti-cancer properties. It is also said to help control high blood pressure. Sam was unaware of these medicinal uses, but simply enjoyed the delicious taste of them.

We eventually went our separate ways, but about half an hour later, our trails looped around and we encountered him once again crossing our path. He informed us that he had found a large maitake at the base of an oak tree. He took us to his car and revealed this ten pound fungus, which he was about to take home and sautée in butter. It was indeed a hen of the woods. My wife took this photo of him in the parking lot of Colonial Park, the proud discoverer of one of this elusive but famous mushroom.

The word “maitake” means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese. This is because ordinary Japanese people would dance for joy whenever they found one, since the Emperor offered its weight in silver for anyone who found one. Nowadays, you can buy extracts as a food supplement (such as Grifola’s Maitake D fraction) or even sometimes find fresh ones in the supermarket.

There is a considerable amount of research on maitake mushrooms—285 PubMed-indexed articles. Of these, 82 concern cancer. The most recent comes from Kobe University—for historical and cultural reasons, most of the research on maitake originates in Japan. It is generally conceded that maitake is an “immune stimulant.” But what exactly does this mean? The Kobe scientists showed that the soluble beta-glucan-rich “D fraction” of maitake “acts as a potent immunotherapeutic agent” and specifically that (together with another immune stimulant) iincreased dendritic cell activity against cancer, “resulting in tumor regression via an antitumor T helper cell 1-type response.”

“Our findings provide the basis for a potent antitumor therapy using a novel combination of immunologic agents for future clinical immunotherapy studies in patients,” Yuki Masuda and colleagues wrote. This confirms what has been known for decades—that mushrooms such as maitake, shiitake, Trametes versicolor, etc. contain immune modulating compounds. Now that immunotherapy is popular in oncology, one would expect increased attention paid to these time-honored and virtually non-toxic methods of boosting immunity.


Dr. James M. Arnott of Brighton, England

Have you heard about the "new" treatment for cancer called cryotherapy? This is the use of extreme cold to destroy tumors, and hopefully cure the disease. I put the word "new” in quotes because cryotherapy is actually an old treatment. A mid-nineteenth century surgeon named James Arnott (1797-1883) began using "cryo" in Brighton, England in 1845 and even published a book on the subject six years later (Arnott 1851). Arnott exhibited his apparatus at the Great Exhibition in London—the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. 

The famous Crystal Palace, home of the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, England

Arnott's work would thus have been accessible to tens of thousands of visitors, including such famous Britons as Prince Albert, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. James Arnott was assisted in his work by his older brother, Neil Arnott, FRS, of Baker Street, who (among many other things) invented the waterbed.

That’s right—“cryo” was already well-known and practiced ten years before the American Civil War! For cancer, Arnott used salt solutions containing crushed ice to attain temperatures of -18º to -24º C (i.e., - 0.4º to – 11º F). He used this apparatus to freeze advanced cancers of the breast and cervix. This resulted in a decrease in the size of the tumor, a reduction of drainage and an amelioration of pain (Gage 1998).

At the time, Arnott wrote these prophetic words:

“Congelation [freezing, ed.] arresting the accompanying inflammation, and destroying the vitality of the cancer cell, is not only calculated to prolong life for a great period, but may, not improbably, in the early stage of the disease, exert a curative action.”

Arnott was certainly ahead of his time. Freezing a tumor seems intrinsically safer than removing it by surgery. What then happened to cryotherapy? Why wasn’t it instantly and universally adopted as a superior method of destroying tumors. First of all, Arnott’s apparatus was bulky and cumbersome. Second, a tumor had to be essentially external in character to be successfully treated in the era before asepsis and anaesthesia. Finally, the temperatures that were attained by the Arnott apparatus were probably not cold enough to thoroughly destroy the tissues in question. A historian of this question has stated:

“Though the usefulness of cold application was acknowledged by Arnott’s contemporaries and physicians of the time began to use local freezing techniques, further development of cryosurgery had to await advances in technology, especially the development of better cryogenic agents.”

The use of cryotherapy to treat cancer of the prostate gland only began in earnest in the 1960s (Wilson 1966). Drs. Ward A. Soanes and Maurice J. Gonder of Kenmore, NY, are credited with developing modern apparatus for the trans-urethral freezing of the prostate gland. In 1966, these two Upstate urologists told the American Urological Association (AUA) that they had treated 150 patients with "no mortality and minimal morbidity” (JAMA 1966). It was the beginning of a new era in prostate cancer treatment, although progress has been undeniably slow over the past few decades.

Cryotherapy continues to be an option for many cases of prostate cancer and other malignancies and is offered at dozens of medical centers around the US and the world. To find an oncologist or urologist who uses this technique one can conveniently consult the Web site of the Endocare company:


Arnott J. On the treatment of cancer by the regulated application of an anesthetic temperature. London: J. Churchill, 1851.

 JAMA. Cryosurgery on prostate reported. JAMA. 1966;196(13):29-29. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100260019007.

Gage AA. History of cryosurgery. Semin Surg Oncol. 1998;14(2):99-109. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2388(199803)14:2<99::AID-SSU2>3.0.CO;2-1.

Wilson CB, Winternitz WW, Bertan V, Sizemore G: Stereotaxic cryosurgery of the pituitary gland in carcinoma of the breast and other disorders. JAMA 1966; 198:587–S90.