Livingston-Wheeler Therapy

Livingston-Wheeler Therapy

Livingston-Wheeler Therapy

Common Names

  • Livingston therapy

For Patients & Caregivers

Livingston-Wheeler therapy has not been shown to treat cancer.

Livingston-Wheeler therapy is an alternative approach to cancer treatment that gained popularity from the 1970s to early 1990. It used several treatments to supposedly stimulate the immune system, including BCG vaccine and a vaccine made from the individual’s own urine, a strict vegetarian diet, antioxidants, and detoxification via coffee enemas. Treatments were available at a clinic run by Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, a doctor who believed that cancer was caused by a bacterium called Progenitor cryptocides, which she claimed to have isolated from cancer tissues. Although a number of viruses and bacteria have been associated with various cancers, a link between the bacteria named by Livingston-Wheeler and cancer was never confirmed by independent researchers.

Experts have studied the strict vegetarian diets required by metabolic therapies like Livingston-Wheeler, and have concluded that they are deficient in important nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamins D, vitamin B12, and protein. Such diets would be unsuitable for some cancer patients.

  • To treat cancer
    One study found similar survival rates between patients treated with the Livingston-Wheeler therapy and with conventional cancer therapies at a major hospital, but the patients using the Livingston-Wheeler therapy had more side effects and lower quality of life. No other studies support this use.
  • To treat HIV and AIDS
    There are no studies to support this claim.
  • In a 1990 position paper, the American Cancer Society urged cancer patients not to use these treatments, as no evidence supported their safety or effectiveness. In addition, although the Livingston-Wheeler diet was similar to recommendations made by the American Cancer Society, its nutrient deficits, especially for calcium, iron, vitamins D and B12, and protein, would be unsuitable for some cancer patients.
  • Nutrient deficiencies including deficiencies in calcium, vitamin B12, and protein; anemia and malabsorption could also result from metabolic diets.
  • The autogenous vaccine that was part of Livingston-Wheeler therapy could cause malaise, aching, slight fever, and tenderness at the injection site.
  • There have been a number of deaths associated with prolonged use of coffee enemas.
Back to top

For Healthcare Professionals

Livingston-Wheeler Therapy is an alternative approach to cancer treatment that gained popularity from the 1970s to early 1990. It used several treatments to supposedly stimulate the immune system, including a strict vegetarian diet, BCG vaccine, coffee enemas, autogenous vaccine, vitamins, antibiotics, antioxidants, nutritional counseling, and support groups/counseling. The regimen was based on the theory that cancer was caused by the bacterium Progenitor cryptocides, which developer Virginia Livingston-Wheeler reported to have isolated in a wide variety of cancer tissues (3) (4). A weakened immune system would then allow the bacterium to grow, and consequently the therapy’s focus was immune-stimulation. Although a number of viruses and bacteria have been associated with various cancers (8), a link between the bacteria named by Livingston-Wheeler and cancer was never confirmed by independent researchers.

A self-selected, matched-cohort, prospective comparison of patients at Livingston-Wheeler Clinic and a conventional cancer center found no difference in survival times between groups, but did find consistently lower quality of life in the Livingston-Wheeler cohort (6).

Metabolic diets may result in nutrient deficiencies (5). Repeated use of coffee enemas has been linked to several deaths from serious infection and electrolyte imbalance (2). In a 1990 position paper, the American Cancer Society urged cancer patients not to use these treatments (1).

  • Cancer treatment
  • HIV and AIDS

Although a number of viruses, bacteria, and parasites have been associated with various cancers (8), a link between the bacteria named by Livingston-Wheeler and cancer was never confirmed by independent researchers. Rather, independent analyses of cultures provided by Livingston-Wheeler identified these bacteria as Staph epidermis, Strep faecalis, Staph faecalis, and other unrelated bacteria (1).

In a 1990 position paper, the American Cancer Society urged cancer patients not to use this treatment, as no evidence supports its efficacy (1). In addition, although the Livingston-Wheeler diet was similar to recommendations made by the American Cancer Society, its nutrient deficits, especially for calcium, iron, vitamins D and B12, and protein, would be unsuitable for some cancer patients.

Common (metabolic diet): Nutrient deficiencies (calcium, vit B12, protein), anemia, and malabsorption may result from metabolic diets (1).

Reported (autogenous vaccine): Malaise, aching, slight fever, and tenderness at injection site (1).

Case Report (Coffee enemas): Death attributable to fluid and electrolyte imbalance causing pleural and pericardial effusions after use of coffee enemas, 4 per day for 8 weeks (2).


  1. American Cancer Society. Livingston-Wheeler therapy. Ca: Cancer J Clin 1990;40:103-8.

  2. Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA 1980;244:1608-9.

  3. Livingston VW, Livingston AM. Some cultural, immunological, and biochemical properties of Progenitor cryptocides. Trans N Y Acad Sci 1974;36:569-82.

  4. Dwyer JT. Unproven nutritional remedies and cancer. Nutr Rev 1992;50:106-9.

  5. Richardson MA, et al. Assessment of outcomes at alternative medicine cancer clinics: a feasibility study. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7:19-32.

  6. De Flora S, Bonanni P. The prevention of infection-associated cancers. Carcinogenesis. Jun 2011;32(6):787-795.

Back to top
Back to top
Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

Last Updated