Chasing cancer for 30 years on 60 Minutes

Cancer drugs made from fruit pits? Shark cartilage? 60 Minutes Overtime revisits cancer stories going back to 1973

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The war on cancer was declared by the United States in the early 1970s, and 60 Minutes has been on the front lines of cancer research covering it ever since. Since the broadcast first began, 60 Minutes has reported nearly 40 stories on the latest cancer treatments -- everything from preventive therapies to bogus claims to unconventional diagnostic techniques and ground-breaking science.

One of the broadcast's earliest reports dates back to 1973, when Morley Safer reported on the progress of cancer research. At the time, there were only four cancer treatment centers in the U.S. and one of them was Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, where Safer went to "see how expert practitioners do their job."

1973: Can cancer be cured?

That report included an early discussion of immunotherapy, excerpted in the player above. Four decades later, immunotherapy is also the subject of 60 Minutes' latest story produced by Michael Radutzky and Denise Cetta, about promising new research using the polio virus to try to kill deadly brain tumors.

1974: Laetrile: Cure or quackery?

In 1974, Mike Wallace reported, "Laetrile: Cure or Quackery?" examining the controversy raging over cancer drugs made from fruit pits.

Wallace traveled to a clinic near Tijuana, where hundreds of American cancer patients were going in hopes of acquiring the fruit pit drug, Laetrile, which the FDA declared illegal in the U.S.

The drug's detractors in the medical community called it medical quackery -- useless against cancer -- but its supporters were calling it a "miracle."

Perhaps more surprising than fruit pits is this 60 Minutes report on the use of shark cartilage as an alternative cancer treatment.

1993: Sharks don't get cancer

Mike Wallace reported in 1993 that Dr. Bill Lane, a Ph.D. in biochemistry, was convinced that unlike fish, sharks didn't seem to get cancer and therefore their cartilage may have contained active ingredients that could potentially stop tumors from growing.

Bone marrow transplants, a much riskier treatment, came around the same time.

1993: The most promising treatment?

In 1993, Steve Kroft reported on the procedure, which involved injecting bone marrow into breast cancer patients when they were literally at death's doorstep, in an effort to produce healthy blood cells to fight off the effects of toxic chemicals.

The problem? The procedure had the capacity to destroy the immune system and produce life-threatening complications.


A story about a possible new diagnostic tool came in 2005, when Safer reported on a study suggesting dogs' extraordinary sense of smell enabled them to detect some forms of cancer.

In a demonstration, Safer watched as Bea, a cocker spaniel, was presented with six urine samples -- one of which belonged to a patient with bladder cancer. Twice, Bea correctly identified the cancerous sample.

Researchers told Safer that the dogs in the study averaged a 41 percent success rate, which they found to be "highly significant."

Watch it in the top player.