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According to some guy called Anthony Holland, you can kill cancer cells with resonant frequencies:

I was expecting the YouTube comments to have some people saying how this is debunked, but everyone is just raving on about evil big pharma. Is this research based on anything?

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    xkcd.com/1217 – DenisS Dec 6 '17 at 18:23
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    This appears to be a scientific paper regarding the device in question. emmind.net/openpapers_repos/Applied_Fields-Experimental/… – BobTheAverage Dec 6 '17 at 22:03
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    But an answer based on sound physical principles is apparently not allowed as either a "comment" or an "answer". – Daniel R Hicks Dec 7 '17 at 1:23
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    I can kill cancer cells with molten lava. That doesn't help the poor cancer patient who would be incinerated by my "cure," unfortunately. Is the claim that resonant frequencies kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone? – PoloHoleSet Dec 7 '17 at 15:42
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    Killing cancer cells has never been the hard part of curing cancer. – Mark Dec 14 '17 at 3:10
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Short version

This is a partial answer, as I've traced this back far enough to find significant connections to pseudo-science and basis for doubt, but I haven't found any sources that directly refute the claims, e.g. through experimental trials.

This stuff appears to be pushed by Anthony Holland, who's started an organization called Novobiotronics. Holland describes their work as continuing from widely rejected research from the 1930's. At this time, there doesn't appear to be much mainstream acceptance.


Long version

The main guy behind this is Anthony Holland. No Wikipedia page, but apparently he's an "Associate Professor of Music" at Skidmore College, as alluded to in his YouTube video in which he notes that he's a music composer (and not a trained scientist).

According to Holland's CV, he got his PhD in "Musical Arts" in 1982 from "Cleveland Institute of Music (Composition) and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio" (presumably the Cleveland Institute of Music).

I point this out for two reasons:

  1. It seems unlikely that someone who has no formal education or experience in science, let alone medicine, would be prepared to understand the nature of their own claims.

  2. Throughout much of his website and press, he uses the "Dr." title and claims to be a "PhD", which strikes me as being misleading enough to potentially qualify as fraud.

Anyway, he's nonetheless started a non-profit organization called Novobiotronics, apparently with support from a GoFundMe campaign that claims 6,500 USD in donations. On that GoFundMe, Holland claims:

We are a nonprofit small grass roots research company that has developed a way of killing up to 60% of cancer cells (in laboratory experiments) without using any drugs (no chemo!) or radiation (no radiation!). We believe our research will lead to a future cancer treatment that is nontoxic (no side effects!), noninvasive (no needles or surgery!) and inexpensive.

The new treatment is electronic: frequency-specific pulsed electric feilds[sic] are directed at cancer cells using a special 'plasma antenna' (something like a special fluorescent light....which broadcasts powerful electric fields which kill cancer cells and slows their growth rate also).

-"Novobiotronics Shattering Cancer", GoFundMe

Holland refers to their technology as "pulse magnetotherapy (PEMF)"; Wikipedia lists this as a synonym for "pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMFT)".


RE: "Is this research based on anything?"

According to Holland, these claims follow from earlier work by Royal Rife:

Our company was the first to produce documented research in a major cancer research lab using a Rife type device (Rife-Bare plasma device).

[...]

Dear Yves, I've done considerable research on Roy Rife. While I greatly admire all that he accomplished, he never was able to document the affects of his machine in vitro in laboratory experiments (or if he was, that material has been lost to history), and his famous cancer treatments of the early 1930's.....there is no extant medical documentation on that whatsoever (if you find some, send me the link please). Unfortunately, according to Rife himself, all those records were 'lost'.

Our company is the first to document the affects of Oscillating Pulsed Electric Fields (OPEF) as broadcast by an enclosed gas plasma antenna against cancer cells in vitro and against antibiotic resistant bacteria (MRSA and pseudomonas). We are not taking credit for Rife's work, rather we are taking the time to fully document it in modern day laboratory experiments. The website links we sent include some of the best documentation to date.

-Anthony Holland in "Is there someone who has experience in using the Rife frequency generator for cancer treatment?", ResearchGate

Here's Wikipedia's description of the earlier researcher, Rife:

Royal Raymond Rife (May 16, 1888 – August 5, 1971) was an American inventor and early exponent of high-magnification time-lapse cine-micrography. In the 1930s, he claimed that by using a specially designed optical microscope, he could observe microbes which were too small to visualize with previously existing technology. Rife also reported that a 'beam ray' device of his invention could weaken or destroy the pathogens by energetically exciting destructive resonances in their constituent chemicals.

-"Royal Rife", Wikipedia [links and citations omitted]

Holland also considers a more recent line of work, on Novocure, to have set the stage for his efforts:

One particular scientific behemoth known as Novocure is serving as the giant ice-breaking, boundary destroying ship currently plying the waters of mainstream American medicine.

Novocure has already had their electronic treatment for brain cancer (recurring glioblastoma) approved by the FDA and has moved aggressively throughout the country in establishing both treatment centers and patient financing plans, since the treatment is not yet covered by American medical insurance companies (one doctor friend of mine informs me that they lease their device for $15,000/month, a sum that very few Americans can afford). While American insurance companies continue to hold a hard line on covering the cost of electronic treatments for cancer, some do cover the use of some electronic devices, TENS for example, for chronic pain treatment.

-Anthony Holland in "Electronic Frequency Treatment in Mainstreet USA"

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    I think it’s clear this character is quite dodgy and there are many red flags, but that’s not a very good argument to convince someone it’s nonsense. I specifically would need to know why this method of killing cancer (an umbrella term for diseases) and not killing every other living cell in the process is nonsense. We all have a gut feeling about that, but what specifically doesn’t work in his method? – Sebastiaan van den Broek Dec 7 '17 at 5:16
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    @SebastiaanvandenBroek Definitely. It took me a bit to sketch out a background of the claimant and their organization, so I figured that this info would help form the picture, but I agree that a more complete answer would seek to find more information on the mechanisms and experimental results. – Nat Dec 7 '17 at 5:42
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    No radiation, instead using pulsed electric fields? This guy needs a refresher course in physics. – Sebastian Redl Dec 7 '17 at 10:16
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    @sebastianredl I know we're supposed to source our answers, but sometimes the urge to just shout "BASIC PHYSICS DON'T WORK THAT WAY!" and leave it at that is overwhelming... – Shadur Dec 7 '17 at 10:32
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    "One particular scientific behemoth known as Novocure is serving as the giant ice-breaking, boundary destroying ship currently plying the waters of mainstream American medicine..." And this is why sensible people hire an actual publicist to edit their publications before the narcissism melts iron at a hundred paces... – Shadur Dec 7 '17 at 10:34
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The FDA approval is confirmed in FDA's press 2015 release, which mentions a trial, because it would have been absurd for the FDA to give apporoval otherwise:

In the clinical study used to support the expanded indication, patients treated with the device and TMZ lived on average three months longer than those treated with the drug alone.

Remains to be seen if this holds up to more scrutiny. CBS has more recent (2017) take on this, which mentions that the trial that led to FDA approval wasn't a blind trial:

What studies show In a 2011 study, the device didn’t improve survival but caused fewer symptoms than chemo did for people whose tumors had worsened or recurred after standard treatments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for that situation

A second study, in newly diagnosed patients, was stopped in 2014 after about half of the 695 participants had been tracked for at least 18 months, because those using the device were living several months longer on average than the rest.

The FDA expanded approval but some doctors were leery because the device wasn’t compared with a sham treatment -- everyone knew who was getting what. Study leaders say a sham was impractical, because patients feel heat when they get the real thing, and many would refuse to shave their heads every few days and use an inconvenient device for years if the treatment might be fake.

The CBS article goes on to detail more recent, post-FDA-approval results of the same trial (positive again), but this doesn't do much to alleviate the methodological concerns.

The name to search for this in pubmed is TTFields [the "generic" name, i.e. tumor treating fields], but also the trademark name Optune. And yes, there are a number of papers published either way... can't say anything for their reception at the moment.

The ABTA does currently list the treatment. Cancer.gov lists the clinical trials, but it seems it doesn't have anything else to say at the moment.

(I have to go out the door right now, so... to be continued.)

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    The FDA press release claims that The unique shape and special characteristics of rapidly dividing tumor cells make them susceptible to damage when exposed to TTFields, which could halt tumor growth. which sounds very much like bioresonance therapy, a well-known field of pseudoscience. Granted, the FDA usually only approves bioresonance devices for diagnostic use and this seems to have been approved for therapeutic use also... – Tgr Dec 10 '17 at 0:45
  • @Tgr would they approve a placebo if there was support for its effectiveness? – jjack Dec 13 '17 at 8:43
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    For e.g. psychiatric medication it was not uncommon in the past, although it wasn't clear at the time of approval that they are placebos. Also they sort of approved the whole field of homeopathy... so I wouldn't put much trust in it, but at the very least it's above the tin-foil level. – Tgr Dec 14 '17 at 0:30
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    Homeopathic medicine is regulated like real medicine, with the exception that it does not have to be tested for efficacy. – Tgr Dec 14 '17 at 5:49
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    From the NCCIH: Homeopathic remedies are regulated as drugs under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). However, under current Agency policy, FDA does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness. ... the FDA requires that the label on the product, outer container, or accompanying leaflet include at least one major indication (i.e., medical problem to be treated) ... If a homeopathic remedy claims to treat a serious disease such as cancer, it must be sold by prescription. – Tgr Dec 14 '17 at 5:50
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This 2013 Chinese Journal of Cancer article looks at transmitting EMF fields into the mouth to treat cancer:

In summary, our clinical results provide strong evidence that the intrabuccal administration of RF EMF amplitude-modulated at tumor-specific frequencies is safe and well-tolerated and may lead to long lasting therapeutic responses in patients with advanced cancer.

  • Welcome to Skeptics! I have severely edited your answer, because most of it was off-topic, not evidence, or repeating the same person making the same claim as in the question. – Oddthinking Aug 26 '18 at 4:37
  • The one piece of evidence you did provide is referring to a treatment that is very different to the claim (and so extraordinary, I would demand more robust evidence before I accepted it.) – Oddthinking Aug 26 '18 at 4:40
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    "Safe and well-tolerated" simply means it didn't hurt the patient. It doesn't mean it works. – Paul Johnson Aug 26 '18 at 8:47

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