The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A lawmaker who believes saltwater and baking soda can cure cancer

(Julia Ewan/The Washington Post)
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Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said recently that she will propose a "Right to Try" bill in her state. But it's not the bill itself that gained national attention. Instead, it was Fiore's statement that she believes cancer is "a fungus" that can be cured by "flushing, let’s say, saltwater, sodium carbonate" through the body.

Just to be clear, right up front: Cancer is not a fungus. It is the uncontrolled division of abnormal human cells within the body. Saltwater cannot cure cancer.

But the idea that something as simple and clean as water mixed with sodium carbonate (or more often, the theory goes, sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) persists, as Fiore's statement indicates. The American Cancer Society has a lengthy post on its Web site debunking the idea.

"Treatment is based on the theory that cancer is caused by a form of yeast infection and that sodium bicarbonate can kill the yeast," the post reads. "This claim is not supported by science or clinical evidence and is contrary to widely-accepted basic facts of oncology and microbiology."

On her radio show, Fiore -- a Republican representing Las Vegas in the statehouse -- noted that the language isn't finalized for the bill, which she said is intended to expand the ability of terminally ill patients to access non-FDA-approved treatments.

Calling it "my terminally ill bill," Fiore said the soon-to-be-proposed legislation is "near and dear to my heart." She went on to explain that she knows multiple Nevadans who have gone overseas to "seek alternative medicine" treatments for illnesses.

[‘Right to Try’ laws spur debate over dying patients’ access to experimental drugs]

Here's more from her show, which was flagged by Nevada reporter Jon Ralston, who notes that it's possible that Fiore meant to refer to baking soda (bicarbonate), and not washing soda (carbonate):

"If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we're flushing with, say, salt water, sodium carbonate, through that line and flushing out the fungus," she said. "These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective."

Fiore said she knows of a "doctor in California" who "kinda coordinates" getting Americans overseas to pay someone to flush baking soda through their bodies.

The main proponent for the treatment is a guy named Tullio Simoncini, who wrote a book called "Cancer is a Fungus." The American Cancer Society notes that despite Simoncini's claim to have scientifically proven his treatment works, "no peer-reviewed articles in medical journals were found to support the theory that cancer is caused by a fungus infection or a yeast infection. Available peer-reviewed medical journals do not support claims that sodium bicarbonate works as a cancer treatment in humans."

The ACS adds: "Some people with cancer have other health conditions for which sodium bicarbonate is used. But, again, there is no evidence that sodium bicarbonate has caused their tumors to shrink."

Advocates for the idea that baking soda can cure cancer seem to have a lot of overlap on a Venn Diagram with those who oppose mandatory vaccinations.

[Meet the crunchy, chemical-hating anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. From 100 years ago.]

Believers in both theories say that they're the victims of a conspiracy by the "establishment" -- i.e., virtually the entire medical community, working with the media and the government -- to keep alternative treatments away from the public.

Both have a history of believing that "toxins" cause a litany of illnesses that can be cured by cleansing the body. The Web is filled with official-looking sources of information, from sites such as, that provide information on these theories.

If her bill passes, Fiore argues, alternative treatments could instead happen in Nevada. "Why not make it the medical capital of the world, too?" she said.

Fiore, it should be noted, runs a health-care business in Nevada. She was removed, and then reinstated, to her chairmanship of the Taxation Committee after the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Internal Revenue Service has a few dozen liens against her and her companies, totaling more than $1 million. The liens mostly refer to unpaid payroll taxes.

Since the language of Fiore's bill isn't yet available, it's impossible to say whether her measure would even allow access to the sorts of treatments she's mentioning. However, "Right to Try" bills have started popping up in state legislatures over the past year or so, as The Washington Post has reported. Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri have their own versions of the measures on the books, and Utah is considering one.

Advocates usually note that the bills can help people access promising new drugs before the FDA's approval process is complete. Although the FDA does have a process to grant “compassionate use” exemptions to allow patients to gain access to those promising treatments, "Right to Try" supporters believe the process -- along with the FDA's drug approval timeline -- is too bureaucratic.

Opponents, however, say that the measures are unnecessary, because the FDA already has a process to provide access to experimental drugs. To go further could end up allowing patients to take unsafe and ineffective drugs too easily, the argument goes.

More reading: Voters in Arizona just overwhelmingly backed a ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ law. Will it help patients?