Caution: Some complementary agents or therapies may be useful for cancer patients; however, some may be harmful in certain situations. MD Anderson Cancer Center cautions patients to consult with their oncologist before attempting to use any agents or therapies referenced on these pages. Inclusion of an agent, therapy or resource on this CIMER Web site does not imply endorsement by MD Anderson Cancer Center.
- Review is based upon articles published as of 7/31/2006
- Information on the scientific basis of Coley toxin therapy is provided in the Detailed Scientific Review
Coley toxins was the first documented attempt in the U. S. to treat cancer by stimulating the immune system. It was first developed in the 1890s by William B. Coley, MD, who noted that patients who developed bacterial infections after surgery for sarcoma had visible regressions of their cancers. Because using live bacteria was dangerous and because he determined that immune reactions depended upon the toxins of the bacteria rather than the actual bacteria, he eventually mixed toxins of the Streptococcus and Bacillus prodigiosus bacteria. Some regressions of cancer were reported among patients treated with these toxins from the 1890s until the 1950s when the treatment largely fell into disuse with the advent of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Coley's progress notes concerning treated patients were compiled by his daughter into published books reviewed on this web site in the Detailed Scientific Review.
Components of Coley toxins currently in use by a few physicians in the U. S. and other countries include exotoxins, enzymes and endotoxins produced by the bacterial strains of S. pyogenes and S. marcescens.
Coley toxins are usually administered in a stepwise increasing dose, with the aim of maintaining body temperatures of 39oC (104-105o F) and more. Patients must be monitored closely in order to achieve this temperature without overwhelming the system with the effects of infection and high fever.
How it is taken
Coley toxins are administered intravenously and they are only legal in the U. S. if prepared and given within a physician's office.
The most common side effects to Coley toxins are fever and nausea. Other less common effects include: headache, backpain, chills, angina and shock-like reactions.
Overwhelming the immune system with Coley toxins could result in serious infections in immune compromised patients.
To avoid potential interactions, be sure to let your health care provider know if you use this or any other type of complementary therapy.
Authors and Editors
Nancy C. Russell, Dr.P.H., senior health education specialist, Integrative Medicine Program Education Component
Reviewers and editors
Mary Ann Richardson, Dr.P.H., director of the former University of Texas Center for Alternative Medicine
Tina Sanders, M.S., research assistant, former University of Texas Center for Alternative Medicine
Stephen P. Tomasovic, Ph.D., senior vice president for academic affairs
Lorianne Janszen, health education specialist, Integrative Medicine Program Education Component