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Livingston-Wheeler Therapy

Other common name(s): Livingston vaccine therapy, Livingston therapy

Scientific/medical name(s): none


Livingston-Wheeler therapy was an alternative cancer method that included vaccines, antibiotics, vitamin and mineral supplements, digestive enzymes, cleansing enemas, support group therapy, and a vegetarian diet. The clinic that offered this therapy is no longer in operation.


Available scientific evidence does not support claims that Livingston-Wheeler therapy was effective in treating cancer or any other disease.

How is it promoted for use?

Livingston-Wheeler therapy was mainly promoted to treat cancer, but it was also used to treat lupus, arthritis, and other chronic conditions. In the case of cancer, supporters believed that when the body's immune system weakens, it allows a bacterium called Progenitor cryptocides to spread and cause cancer. Practitioners claimed Livingston-Wheeler therapy was a form of immunotherapy that could boost the immune system to help a person fight off serious illnesses such as cancer.

What does it involve?

Livingston-Wheeler therapy was given at only one clinic in the United States. Patients entered a 10-day treatment program, which could be expensive and required home treatment as well. Follow-up visits to the clinic were also encouraged. At the clinic, patients were evaluated and given standard blood and urine tests. Special hormone, liver function, and tumor marker tests were also done. The patient's immune system was also tested in order to design a personalized immune-enhancement vaccine which was usually derived from the patient's own urine or blood.

In addition to the vaccine, the patient could be given antibiotics, nutritional supplements, digestive enzymes, bile salts, enemas, laxatives, and blood transfusions. A strict vegetarian diet was enforced and the patient took part in group or support therapy.

What is the history behind it?

During the 1950s, Virginia Livingston, MD (who later remarried and became Livingston-Wheeler), developed a theory that cancer was caused by a bacterium (Progenitor cryptocides) which was activated when one's immune system was weakened or under great stress. Based on her theory, she designed a complex treatment to reduce the amount of the bacteria in the body so the immune system could fight the cancer.

She and her husband, Dr. A.M. Livingston, opened the Livingston Clinic in San Diego in 1969. Following her husband's death, she married Dr. Owen Wheeler, one of her former cancer patients. The clinic was renamed the Livingston-Wheeler clinic in 1976. From 1969 to 1984, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people were treated at the clinic. While the clinic specialized in cancer treatment, the therapy was expanded to treat arthritis, lupus, allergies, and AIDS.

In 1990, the California Department of Health Services ordered the clinic to stop giving the immune-enhancement vaccine, immune-enhancement as part of the treatment program since it was not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Livingston-Wheeler died the same year. The clinic remained open for several years as the Livingston Foundation Medical Center. It is estimated that about 500 patients with cancer and other problems received treatment there yearly. The clinic is no longer in operation.

What is the evidence?

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that Livingston-Wheeler therapy helps people with cancer. Few studies have evaluated the Livingston-Wheeler therapy. One investigation involving cancer patients with advanced cancer compared survival and quality of life between patients receiving conventional treatment and those undergoing Livingston-Wheeler therapy. According to the 1991 report, there was no difference in survival between the two groups, but the patients treated at Livingston-Wheeler had significantly poorer quality of life. These results refuted the clinic's claim of an 82 percent cure rate, even for people with advanced cancer.

One report found that the bacterium Progenitor cryptocides, which Dr. Livingston-Wheeler claimed caused cancer, is actually a mixture of several different types of bacteria incorrectly labeled as one by Dr. Livingston-Wheeler. The other components of her therapy have also been criticized for lack of scientific evidence.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

These substances may have not been thoroughly tested to find out how they interact with medicines, foods, or dietary supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.

The safety of Livingston-Wheeler therapy was never firmly established. Some reported reactions to the vaccine given in the therapy included aching, slight fever, and tenderness at the injection site. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer, could have serious health consequences.

Additional resources

More information from your American Cancer Society

The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).

Dietary Supplements: What Is Safe?

The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management

Complementary and Alternative Methods and Cancer

Placebo Effect

Learning About New Ways to Treat Cancer

Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer


American Cancer Society. Unproven methods of cancer management: Livingston-Wheeler therapy. CA Cancer J Clin. 1991;41:A7-A12.

Cassileth B, Lusk EJ, Guerry D, et al. Survival and quality of life among patients receiving unproven as compared with conventional cancer therapy. N Engl J Med. 1991;324:1180-1185.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs: Livingston-Wheeler Therapy. 2005. Accessed at: www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69283.cfm on June 11, 2008.

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Livingston-Wheeler Therapy: Detailed Scientific Review. 2004. Accessed at: www.mdanderson.org/departments/cimer/display.cfm?id=ADFAB01E-16E9-11D5-811000508B603A14&method=displayFull&pn=6EB86A59-EBD9-11D4-810100508B603A14 on June 11, 2008.

Vickers A. Alternative cancer cures: "unproven" or "disproven"? CA Cancer J Clin. 2004;54:110-118.

Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.

Last Medical Review: 11/01/2008
Last Revised: 11/01/2008