"" Ralph Moss—Cancer Consultant: 2016-02-21

Friday, February 26, 2016


Blood irradiation is popular at CAM clnics.

The American Cancer Society once characterized treatments given at Tijuana cancer clinics as “antiquated.” But is the efficacy of a treatment decided by age alone? Digitalis (from foxglove) for congestive heart failure was discovered in the eighteenth
 century but twenty-first century patients are still prescribed its derivative, digoxin, for various heart related symptoms.

Inasmuch as some treatments (such as homeopathy, Coley’s toxins, methylglyoxal, and ultraviolet blood purification) arose a long while ago, they are old in origin. However, since, as we all know, many advanced cancers are incurable by conventional means, can society afford to throw out possibly useful treatments based on their antiquity?  Some old treatments have considerable scientific documentation behind them, although sometimes they include old or non-English references.

Several of these ‘outdated’ approaches have gone on to form the basis of modern, scientifically verified conventional treatments. Ultraviolet (UV) irradition of the blood is one example. This has long been an alternative staple found in Tijuana clinics. But it also has part of a standard conventional approach to a variety of diseases, including cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. It is described as "extracorporeal photopheresis" in many journal articles and textbooks. 

Yale University doctors devised a more efficient way to make this treatment work. They predicted that it would be useful in the management of patients with a broad variety of malignancies. This treatment has been vigorously advocated by Richard L. Edelson, MD, who is director emeritus of the Yale Cancer Center. A version of this old therapy is also available at several alternative clinics.


It is sometimes said that Mexican clinics specialize in giving treatments that the doctors themselves know are ineffective. This would be one definition of quackery. In the course of a long career, I have occasionally observed this phenomenon. One occasionally finds sociopaths looking for a safe haven in the world of medicine, including "alternative" medicine. But, by and large, this is an unfair characterization of the Mexican clinic directors, and sometimes reeks of national chauvinism. Almost all Mexican clinics are striving for excellence in their own way, and for therapeutic as well as economic success. 

This stands to reason. To knowingly promulgate worthless treatments would be self-defeating and illogical. Some of these clinics have been around since the 1960s or 1970s. Every patient who comes to a Tijuana clinic has to be persuaded to make a costly and difficult trip, often against the wishes of family members or their own physicians. Clinics mainly attract new patients through word-of-mouth recommendations. A clinic’s performance is judged by patients’ perception of the medical results, but also by the kindness and focus of doctors and staff. Clinic doctors thus have a strong incentive to utilize treatments that they and their patients at least believe to be most effective. 

American oncology is excellent in many ways. But it sometimes falls down in its superficial attention to the experience of the patient—cramped, windowless examination rooms; superficial or even non-existent empathy; failure to engage the patient on any human level. These are not infrequently encountered experiences. Sometimes it seems that only the low-level employees truly care, while those at the top of the pecking order protect their privileged positions in a haughty and disdainful manner.

I would suggest that the Mexican doctors' ability to connect to patients on a human level, and to exhibit sympathetic warmth for people struggling for their lives, makes for their continued success in attracting US patients. Unbeknownst to American critics, a few clinics are also approaching or surpassing the standards of American hospitals and seeking Joint Commission Accreditation.

Overall, they are an asset that should be sympathetically encouraged to improve, rather than an enemy to be vilified, attacked and destroyed.

What do you think?

(Rickenbacher P. [Drug treatment for chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.]. Ther Umsch. 2011;68:71-79; www.fda.gov; Edelson RL. Cutaneous T cell lymphoma: the helping hand of dendritic cells. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 2001;941:1-11; Atta, Maria, Nikolaos Papanicolaou, and Panagiotis Tsirigotis. “The Role of Extracorporeal Photopheresis in the Treatment of Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphomas.” Transfusion and Apheresis Science: Official Journal of the World Apheresis Association: Official Journal of the European Society for Haemapheresis 46, no. 2 (April 2012): 195–202. doi:10.1016/j.transci.2011.10.016; www.jointcommission.org)