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Idaho doctor who falsely links COVID-19 vaccine to cancer has misdiagnosed two patients

Dr. Ryan Cole speaks at a “Defeat the Mandates” rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23, 2022. “Let doctors be doctors, and let us treat patients and save their lives. Don’t shackle our hands. We will not comply with your silliness,” he said. (Screenshot from livestream video)
Dr. Ryan Cole speaks at a “Defeat the Mandates” rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23, 2022. “Let doctors be doctors, and let us treat patients and save their lives. Don’t shackle our hands. We will not comply with your silliness,” he said. (Screenshot from livestream video)

One patient spoke directly to the Sun, the other patient’s case described in a Washington Medical Commission complaint

One woman thought she had cancer. Another woman thought she was developing it. There was no cancer. They were misdiagnosed by Dr. Ryan Cole, according to reporting by the Sun.

Cole diagnosed the patients in the past year — while claiming to see a spike in cancers at his laboratory and attributing that spike to immune damage from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cole has not publicly produced evidence to support that claim, while experts who refute his claim have shared their evidence and directly debunked his mischaracterizations of their research.

“I’ve seen a 20 times increase of endometrial cancers over what I see on an annual basis — a 20 times increase, not exaggerating at all,” Cole said in a video produced by anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho in August 2021.

“If — and it’s a big if — he is seeing genuinely more cancer patients in a way that is statistically verifiable now, it is likely due to people putting off cancer and other medical screening during the last couple years,” Dr. Gigi Gronvall, immunology expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Reuters in an article fact-checking the claims.

That one video of Cole’s claims about cancer has been shared and viewed more than 600,000 times on social media and video-sharing platforms — not counting its circulation before it was removed from YouTube.

In the video, Cole singled out gynecologic cancers.

“I look at my numbers year over year. I’m like, ‘Gosh, I’ve never seen this many endometrial cancers before,’” he said.

A complaint to the Washington Medical Commission raised concerns about whether Cole’s claims may have a relationship with misdiagnosing patients with cancer.

Cole “has asserted that he has seen a 20-fold increase in cancers in his laboratory this year,” said the complaint, obtained by the Sun through a public records request. (The Washington state health department redacted the identity of the physician who filed the complaint.)

“In his talks he attributes this increase to the COVID-19 vaccines and has convinced many people to refuse vaccination due to the concern that the COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer,” it said.

The complaint suggested the licensing board investigate whether Cole was either intentionally or subconsciously delivering the wrong diagnoses on cancer screenings, in service of his claims about vaccinations and cancer.

The commission has received several complaints about Cole’s conduct and is investigating them, as the Sun reported last year.

The Sun reached out to Cole for comment, clarification or context regarding these allegations. Cole directed the Sun to attorney Steven Biss, who did not respond to three emails and a voicemail from the Sun.

One Idaho woman had major surgery following misdiagnosis

The latest complaint said Cole had misdiagnosed a 64-year-old woman, who then had urgent surgery to remove the cancerous body parts — only to learn she didn’t actually have cancer.

The woman is not named in the complaint.

The patient saw a Treasure Valley primary care doctor in December 2021, according to the complaint. The woman underwent a biopsy of her uterus, and the health care provider sent the biopsied tissue to Cole Diagnostics

Cole sent back a diagnosis of “serous carcinoma,” the complaint said. Serous carcinoma can be a very fast-moving cancer with a high mortality rate.

The patient’s health care provider referred her to a gynecologic cancer specialist, and she was scheduled for surgery. The surgeon removed her reproductive organs, along with lymph nodes and tissue from her abdomen, the complaint said.

That tissue went to a laboratory for examination — where pathologists found no cancer.

“Pathologic evaluation of all the surgical specimens was negative for cancer,” the complaint said.

Because of the discrepancy between Cole’s diagnosis and the apparent lack of cancer, the hospital sent the tissue to Stanford University for review “to ensure a cancer had not been missed,” the complaint said. “The findings at Stanford were also negative for cancer. Both the surgeon and the patient are understandably upset at the misdiagnosis by (Cole).”

The woman’s primary care doctor and surgeon did not respond to inquiries from the Sun.

Diagnosis of precancerous changes ‘didn’t add up’

Last summer, Cole misdiagnosed another Idaho woman with a precursor to a rare gynecologic cancer.

The woman agreed to share her story with the Sun but asked not to be named, due to health privacy concerns. She also shared her medical records with the Sun, including Cole’s diagnostic report.

The woman said she went to her primary care provider last summer because she was experiencing some discomfort. The provider did a tissue biopsy and sent it on to Cole Diagnostics, to see if the laboratory could pinpoint what was causing the problem.

“We never even talked about the possibility of it being (related to) cancer,” the woman told the Sun.

Cole returned a diagnosis of precancerous cells. That “didn’t add up” for a few reasons, the woman said.

One reason it didn’t add up: The biopsy wasn’t taken from an area like the cervix, where precancerous cells are common enough to warrant regular screenings. Instead, the biopsy came from an area that is rarely affected by cancer.

But, worried about her health, the woman made an appointment at a cancer center. There, the center’s own pathologists examined the same biopsied tissue — and found no evidence of precancerous cells.

The woman said her cancer specialist called for the second opinion from the center’s own pathologists “because they’d had problems with false results from Cole Diagnostics.”

The woman recently returned to the cancer center for a follow-up check to confirm she wasn’t developing cancer. Her physician said she was, indeed, in the clear.

The misdiagnosis was doubly upsetting, she said, because of a personal experience: One of her family members — who is at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 — decided not to get vaccinated after watching one of Cole’s videos.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.