Tijuana Cancer Clinics

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Moss Reports


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Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Weekly CancerDecisions.com
Newsletter #154 10/17/04
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THE MOSS REPORTS


Whether we like it or not, medicine is essentially a marketplace, and the patient is ultimately a consumer who must make choices from among the many options offered by both conventional and alternative practitioners. When it comes to cancer, these choices are made all the more bewildering and onerous by the fact that decisions must be made quickly.

In thirty years of monitoring the complex field of cancer research and therapy I have assembled a comprehensive library of reports, the Moss Reports, on the conventional and alternative treatment of more than two hundred different types of cancer. For a newly-diagnosed cancer patient there can be few more useful guides and decision-making tools than a Moss Report.

To order a Moss Report please visit our website, or call Diane at 1-800-980-1234 (814-238-3367 from outside the US).

We look forward to helping you.



IN MEMORY OF MICHAEL CULBERT (1937-2004)


I note with great sadness the passing of Michael Culbert, one of the leading figures in the field of CAM cancer treatments. Michael died on September 11, 2004 in Tijuana, Mexico. By coincidence, I happened to be in Tijuana at the time. On the day before his death I spent an hour at his bedside, talking with him. He was undergoing treatment at International BioCare, the clinic of which he was a long-time officer. But I had no intimation of how serious his condition must have been.

Michael was the first person I knew in the alternative health care movement. He was formerly the president and chairman of the Committee of Freedom of Choice in Medicine and then became founder and president of the International Council for Health Freedom (ICHF). His journalism career began as an editor of the Berkeley (California) Daily Gazette but he became intrigued by the Laetrile story and went on to write 20 books and scores of articles on the topics of alternative medicine, medical politics and economics.

Some of his best-known books were Vitamin B17: Forbidden Weapon Against Cancer, AIDS: Hope, Hoax & Hoopla, and Medical Armageddon. Although he would have scoffed at the notion, promoting far-out treatments was a labor of love. His "day job" was as Vice President and Director of Information of the International BioCare Hospital and Medical Center (IBC). He helped and gave hope to innumerable patients with his witty style of repartee.

I knew Michael for almost 30 years and always looked forward to our meetings, not only because of his great accomplishments and his steady leadership of the field, but also because of his captivating sense of humor. He was one of those naturally hilarious people who could bring out the humorous side of even the most dire situation.

My association with him dated from the height of the Laetrile movement. When I 'blew the whistle' on Memorial Sloan-Kettering's cover-up of positive data on Laetrile, I sent the documents - anonymously - to Michael, since he was then president of the Committee for Freedom of Choice. I had never met him but knew him by reputation as an eloquent spokesman for patients' right to choose alternative medicine.

Some months later, I received a surprise visit at my Sloan-Kettering office from Michael and two other leaders of the field. They had come to New York looking for the person who had leaked the Laetrile studies. Remember that there were then 4,600 employees at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and at that time my identity was still a deep and dark secret. Yet somehow his "nose for news" had led him to the most likely suspect! And one look at my bookshelf - filled with 'forbidden' works on various alternative cancer treatments - immediately convinced him that he had come to the right place.

After I was fired from Sloan-Kettering, Mike flew to New York to see and interview me. It was wonderful to have a touch of humor in what seemed like a dangerous and confusing period of my life. We were often in contact after that. For example, we were together during the Coolfont Conference, a historic meeting of 16 leaders of the CAM field, held at a Berkeley Springs, WV, conference center in August, 1988. I also remember well his speech, criticizing the Office of Technology Assessment report on alternative treatments. I reprinted his speech in my Cancer Chronicles and it is currently available on my ralphmoss.com website. His words ring with the authentic voice of a prophet crying in the wilderness:

"The vicious system [he said] which, on the one hand says 'we cannot cure you', and on the other hand says, 'but don't try some unproven remedy' and warns you always not to sneak off to Tijuana, must come to an end. It is blatantly immoral."

Michael Culbert's Speech to the OTA panel:
http://www.ralphmoss.com/html/culbert.shtml

About the Coolfont Conference:
http://www.ralphmoss.com/caind2.html

Michael and I were often together during the 1990s, when we served on various government panels or testified before various committees of the National Institutes of Health. And, of course, whenever I made site visits to the Tijuana clinics (as I was doing last September) I made sure to include Michael and the IBC on my itinerary.

Mike Culbert was so much a part of the freedom of choice movement that I never once stopped to consider that one day he might be gone. Even when I saw him the day before he died I was oblivious to this possibility. But as I was leaving Mike held my hand and said, "Thanks for coming." He paused. "You can't imagine how much this means to me."

Little did I know how much it would mean to me as well.



A VISIT TO WEST COAST CANCER CLINICS


A two-week visit to Southern California and Tijuana, Mexico, has convinced me that alternative medicine is alive and well there.  As proof, over 1,200 people came to hear 50 speakers at the Cancer Control Society (CCS) meeting over Labor Day weekend at the Universal City Sheraton. It was a pleasure to participate in that three-day meeting and to receive the Society's Humanitarian Award.

In Southern California, I also visited several oncologists who were not participants in the CCS meeting, but whom I especially wanted to interview because of their innovative approaches to cancer. Some of these practitioners, including Haim I. Bicher, MD, of the Valley Cancer Institute, Bernard Lewinsky, MD, of the Western Tumor Medical Group and Arman A. Shahbazian, MD, of the Pacific Radiation Oncology Center, use hyperthermia (therapeutic heat) along with radiation to treat cancers of various types. I also held discussions with Dr. T.R. Shantha, MD, of Stockbridge, Georgia, who uses an unusual kind of hyperthermia in his holistic practice. 

In addition I made site visits to several other cancer clinics in southern California. I visited the Orange County Immune Institute of Dr. Ferre Akbarpour, the San Diego clinic of Dr. Edwin McClelland, and the Rational Therapeutics Institute, which is directed by Robert A. Nagourney, MD. Dr. Akbarpour is using a comprehensive immune regimen, Dr. McClelland is continuing the work of the late Virginia Livingston, MD, and Dr. Nagourney uses in vitro assays to determine the likely effectiveness of various chemotherapeutic drugs and combinations.

In Mexico, I also visited several clinics. Tijuana cancer clinics have been denigrated by many in the American oncology profession as uniformly unsavory establishments which offer treatments that are inferior in every way to the care American patients receive at home. Highly derogatory statements about Mexican clinics are often repeated at anti-quackery websites, but these statements only tell part of the story. This was my fifth visit to the Mexican clinics (the first was in 1976) and I once again found a more complicated and nuanced picture than the widely-circulated stereotype.  While there have indeed been some real charlatans in Tijuana, i.e., people who were not legally qualified to practice medicine and who used methods that were dubious or downright fraudulent, many of these "bad apples" have now been weeded out by the Mexican authorities. On this trip, every clinic that I visited was headed by a licensed Mexican medical doctor, and used methods that are commonly employed in Europe and Asia, if not always in 'El Norte,' the behemoth to the north.

The clinics and individuals I visited were as follows:

American Metabolics Hospital (Geronimo Rubio, MD)
Baja NutriCare (Charlotte Gerson)
Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT) clinic (Donato Perez Garcia III, MD)
International BioCare (IBC), Tijuana (Michael Culbert)
Oasis of Hope Hospital--Issels program (Gar Hildenbrand)
Rapha Clinic/Hope4Cancer (Tony Martinez, MD)
Sanoviv Hospital (Dr. Anthony Peņa)

In Los Angeles, I also had dinner with Dr. Gilberto Alvarez, MD, and his wife, and was therefore able to learn about his outpatient facility, the Stella Maris clinic in Tijuana.


Licensed Graduates


Typically, the physicians who run these Tijuana clinics are graduates of the Autonomous University of Gudalajara or the Autonomous University of Baja California, both of which are licensed facilities. A few have also trained or practiced in the United States or Europe. For example, Francisco Contreras, MD, medical director of the Oasis of Hope Hospital, states at his website that he specialized in surgical oncology at the University Hospital in Vienna. Dr. Rodrigo Rodriquez of International BioCare trained at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. Dr. Tony Jimenez grew up in New Jersey but attended medical school in Mexico. All of the doctors and many of the nurses speak good, colloquial English.

Admittedly, they may not be luminaries in the field of conventional oncology. Few of them have done prestigious internships or residencies, or have published extensively in peer-reviewed journals. However, most patients who come from afar to be treated at these clinics do not do so because they are in search of state-of-the-art oncology, but because they specifically seek a different approach. Many of these clinics are staffed by doctors who are very knowledgeable about alternative treatments. They are bright and resourceful  people who have lots of hands-on experience of what seems to work and what doesn't. In this respect, they could run circles around the average American oncologist. Some can and do hold their own with European CAM specialists.

Another fault that conventional oncologists find with the Mexican clinics is the cost of their services. And indeed, I have found that costs have nearly doubled in the last four years. A typical fee is now around $6,000-$7,000 per week, or $20,000 for the usual three weeks of treatment. What makes this charge so onerous is the fact that many insurance plans refuse to pay even in part for the kind of experimental treatments offered at such clinics. To house and treat a patient for $1,000 per day does not in principle seem exorbitant, especially for in-patient care. But it is certainly beyond the means of many North Americans, especially considering the very unpredictable outcome of any treatment for advanced cancer.


Bedside Manner


The Mexican doctors and nurses I met seemed, as a rule, caring individuals. What they lacked in technological know-how they made up for with their very compelling bedside manner. Some are charismatic, and go out of their way to reassure and to educate their patients. This is a big part of their appeal to North Americans, who are often refugees from an unfeeling medical system that puts a high priority on technology and efficiency at the expense of the more traditional healing skills. The nurses, I was told at several clinics, are underpaid by US standards and some do not have even have proper R.N. training. But they manage to exude a feeling of concern and hope. This warmth is very important to most of the patients I spoke with.


Dirty and Dangerous?


We are often told that Tijuana clinics are dirty and dangerous. "TJ" as a city is indeed frighteningly squalid in parts. But one thing I will say about the facilities that I have visited: most of them are meticulously clean. Their physical plants range from sad little outpatient clinics in down-at-the-heels neighborhoods to one fabulous five-star seaside "resort hospital."

Tijuana is a difficult environment for most Americans and Europeans to adjust to. It is a huge and sprawling city, swollen with economic migrants from the Latin American interior seeking work in the maquilla factories or looking to cross the border into the US. It is quite different from the sleepy burg I visited back in 1976 when I played hookey from a medical meeting in Anaheim to visit the first clinic of Dr. Ernesto Contreras, Sr.

Tijuana has been a fixture in alternative medicine for 40 years, since Mildred Nelson brought the Hoxsey herbal treatment there in the 1960s (Ausubel 2000). But why did Tijuana become the Mecca for alternative clinics? "TJ" has long had a reputation as a convenient sin city minutes from the US border. It became notorious during the Prohibition era-and some see the outlawing of many alternative cancer treatments in the US as a kind of "medical prohibition." It is also famous for horse racing, bull rings, boxing matches, curio sales, hot springs, and, unfortunately, prostitution of various sorts.

Tijuana also has a thriving medical industry. A large section in the city's voluminous yellow pages is taken up with listings for clinics of various kinds. North Americans now come to TJ to get inexpensive dental care, especially "biological" dentistry; to purchase pharmaceuticals at a discount (and sometimes without a prescription); or for cosmetic or plastic surgery, for which the city is now a major capital - the number of such procedures performed in Mexico is second only to the number performed in the US.

During the late 1970s, at the height of the Laetrile phenomenon, Tijuana received 70,000 North Americans per year streaming across the San Ysidro border crossing for alternative cancer treatments. A famous photograph from those days shows a roadside stand offering "Sandwiches and Laetrile." Today, that flood has slowed considerably. None of the clinics I visited seemed very busy-but all had some North American or European patients.

There are periodic attacks by US authorities against "bogus cancer cure gurus" (FTC 2002) operating on both sides of the border. In 2001, spurred by negative American newspaper articles, the Mexican health authorities clamped down on many of the clinics. Some were closed for good, such as BioPulse, which was then heavily promoting its insulin shock therapy -and its dubious stock- in the US. I happened to be touring Tijuana clinics when that raid occurred, and wrote about it at the time.

Click or go here to read the article I wrote about the raid:
http://www.cancerdecisions.com/Townsend/May2001.html

A dozen clinics were shut, in whole or in part, at the same time, but later reopened in a more restrained fashion (Crabtree 2002). The attacks of 9/11 nearly derailed the remaining clinics, after most North Americans simply stopped traveling for months. Some of the clinics turned to lower-paying Mexican clients to sustain them. On this visit, I noticed that the waiting rooms at several clinics contained about equal numbers of North American cancer patients and local residents seeking treatment for everyday complaints. Attracting well-heeled foreign patients is a chancy business which depends on many factors, most of which are out of the control of the clinic itself.

Since 2001, some of the clinics that have folded include the Advanced Medicine & Research Center (Lawrence Taylor), GenesisWest (Jacob Swilling), Induced Remission Therapy (Sam Chachoua), New Hope Bioresonance Center, the Manner Clinic, and Cell Specific Cancer Therapy (Zoetron). The latter closed after it was banned from marketing and selling its treatment as part of a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (Feb. 25, 2004).

For a while the future of all the Tijuana clinics looked in doubt (Chowka 2001). But although many clinics did disappear, the most resilient have survived. Some treatments have played musical chairs at the various facilities. The Gerson program has moved at least three times but finally seems to have found a pleasant home at Baja Nutricare. The Issels vaccine program has also migrated from the CHIPSA hospital to Oasis of Hope. Dr. Donato has moved to more accessible quarters in the Grand Hotel.


What can one expect by way of treatment?


Despite rumors to the contrary, there are no reliable 'miracle cures' for cancer in Tijuana or elsewhere. But Laetrile, hydrazine sulfate, ozone and oxygen therapies, dendritic cell vaccines, high-dose vitamin C drips, vegetarian diets, etc. are the staples of treatment at most centers. Most clinics also have some specialty that differentiates them from the rest.  For example, Baja Nutricare is tightly focused on the Gerson diet. It is the fulfillment of Charlotte Gerson's quest for a center that will faithfully practice and teach the treatment philosophy of her celebrated father, Dr. Max Gerson. Similarly, Dr. Donato's clinic specializes in potentiating chemotherapy through the use of insulin, an idea pioneered by his grandfather and father. The BioMed clinic (which I saw on a previous visit) uses the formulas of the late Harry Hoxsey.

Two "hot" treatments right now are PolyMVA and dendritic cell vaccines. These two illustrate the contradictory aspects of Tijuana's appeal. "Poly" is still unknown to the great majority of American patients and even doctors. It thus has the cachet of the "new new thing," appealing to people who have been told that there is nothing further that can be done for them.

Click or go here for my prior articles on PolyMVA:

http://www.cancerdecisions.com/101803_page.html
http://www.cancerdecisions.com/102403_page.html

By contrast, dendritic cell vaccines are well known to scientists, and in fact originated in conventional medicine. There are 3,500 articles in PubMed on the use of dendritic cell vaccines in cancer, with 25 clinical trials of dendritic cell vaccines in cancer currently underway (www.clinicaltrials.gov). Despite this, American patients cannot just walk into their oncologist's office and receive this promising treatment. That is because there is a considerable delay between the time that a new treatment first emerges and its general availability. This inability of American medicine to respond with sufficient alacrity to consumer demand creates the incentive for Tijuana's unconventional clinics to offer such treatments on a fee-for-service basis.

I will continue to summarize the results of my investigations in the weeks to come. I also intend to return to the West Coast in about six months in order to reassess my impressions of these clinics and seek out new possibilities for my readers and Moss Report clients.



--Ralph W. Moss, PhD

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References:

Ausubel, Kenny. When Healing Becomes a Crime: The Amazing story of the Hoxsey cancer clinics and the return of alternative therapies. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2000.

Crabtree, Penni and Dibble, Sandra. Borderline medicine: Tijuana alternative clinics frustrate regulators. The San Diego Union-Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Feb 24, 2002. Retrieved September 17, 2004 from:
http://utawards.signonsandiego.com/borderline_medicine.html

Fink, John. Third Opinion: An International Directory to Alternative Therapy Centers for the Treatment and Prevention of Cancer & Other Degenerative Diseases. 4th Edition. Square One Publishers, 2004. Available from:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0757001319/cancerdecisio-20/ref=nosim/002-9520002-7862456

FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Bogus Cancer Cure Guru Settles FTC Charges, news release, October 28, 2002. Retrieved October 15, 2004 from:
http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2002/10/walker.htm

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IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER

The news and other items in this newsletter are intended for informational purposes only. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.



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