San Diego Union-Tribune Examines ‘Controversial’ Alternative Cancer Clinics
The San Diego Union-Tribune this week examines Tijuana's "long-controversial" alternative cancer clinics in a two-part series. A brief summary of each story follows.
Just one year after a "sweeping crackdown" of alternative cancer clinics in Tijuana, the "crackdown's impact has faded," the Union-Tribune reports. Clinics continue to sell thousands of dollars of unproven treatments to a "steady stream" of "desperately ill people," many of whom are Americans. Regulators in Baja California closed all or part of more than a dozen clinics last year, but their efforts have been stalled by a shortage of inspectors. The clinics "are targeting a vulnerable population," according to Rich Cleland, a senior attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. Patients who use and support the clinics "insist" that the clinics offer services patients want, including "doctors who listen and offer soothing words of hope, no matter how slim the chances." Health care experts and doctors say the clinics "charge tens of thousands of dollars" for "useless therapies" and may delay many patients from seeking "conventional care" that could save or prolong their lives. The Union-Tribune reports that fraud investigators list the San Diego area as a "hot spot" for such clinics, with American operators running cross-border operations in Mexico and the United States and billing U.S. insurers for questionable treatments. According to the investigators, such "scams" cost the health insurance industry "millions" of dollars each year and contribute to rising premiums. Still, John Taylor, director of the Office of Enforcement for the FDA, said, "The problem has become too big for one agency -- or one country -- to combat" (Crabtree/Dibble, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/24).
In the second part of the series, the Union-Tribune examines the effectiveness of the treatments offered at Tijuana's alternative cancer clinics. According to the Union-Tribune, many patients undergo alternative treatment because conventional treatment "frightens or has failed them." However, health care experts and "mainstream" physicians say the clinics offer little more than a pseudoscientific twist on faith healing," and patients sometimes "deplete their savings and mortgage their homes" on "ineffective and risky treatments." According to the Union-Tribune, even devout believers of alternative medicine doubt the efficacy of Tijuana clinics. "The words 'buyer beware' should be engraved on a sign over the border," Ralph Moss, editor of the Moss Reports, an American publication that reviews "promising" alternative treatments worldwide, said. Moss added that the clinics "jump the gun on anything that looks promising" and offer "cures" that are a "mix of preliminary scientific findings (and) extreme extrapolation." For their part, many alternative clinic operators say the U.S. medical establishment, including doctors, drug companies and regulators, is "conspir[ing]" against them and attempting to discredit their treatments. However, the Union-Tribune reports that Dr. Jeffrey White, director of the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Cancer Institute, has written more than 150 letters to alternative clinics and practitioners in the United States and Mexico inviting them to submit "their best results" for scientific evaluation. White oversees the program that evaluates alternative cancer treatments in an attempt to find viable therapies. White said no Tijuana clinic has responded. He added, "If (clinics) aren't interested in pursuing validation, I think that should raise concern." The Union-Tribune reports that Tijuana clinic operators said they "don't have the time, resources or know-how" to conduct clinical research, while others say they would not "get a fair hearing" from U.S. researchers (Crabtree/Dibble, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.