Some years ago, I had a strange experience at the Hoxsey “Biomedical" clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. In my 40 years of visiting foreign cancer clinics, I have had many wonderful experienced and met caring doctors, who were eager to share their methods and experiences….Then there was the Hoxsey clinic. This clinic, which was located in an unmarked building in Tijuana, remains the only clinic that I have been kicked out of! In 1999, I was making site visits to various Mexican cancer clinics. This naturally brought me to so-called Biomedical Center of Tijuana (No relation to the BioMed hospital in Bad Bergzabern, Germany.)
|My friend Kenny Ausubel made a fine documentary about Hoxsey.|
In fact, this attitude represents the antithesis of everything I believed about how CAM could fit into a treatment philosophy now called "integrative oncology." The people involved with it tended to be paranoid, secretive and anti-science. Nevertheless, I will try to give the Hoxsey method a fair and unbiased evaluation. It isn't easy, because there are no reliable studies of the effect
For many years, Harry Hoxsey promoted his internal cure for cancer. It consisted of a solution of cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) and potassium iodide. Rhamnus purshiana is a plant also known as cascara buckthorn, whose bark is a powerful laxative. Native Americans taught this use to the Europeans settlers. To this, Hoxsey added most or all of the following plant substances: poke root (Phytolacca americana); burdock root (Arctium lappa); barberry root (Berberis vulgaris); a different type of buckthorn bark (Rhamnus frangula); Stillingia root (Stillingia sylvatica); and prickly ash bark (Zanthoxylum americanum).
Hoxsey was not a medical doctor, yet he ran clinics that treated innumerable cancer patients. He can generously be described as an unlicensed and uneducated folk practitioner. (Some people applied less generous names.) Not surprisingly he was vehemently opposed by almost the entire medical profession and by the state and US governments. After a great deal of difficulty, the FDA put out of business in 1960. His one time nurse, Mildred Nelson, RN, took refuge in Tijuana in 1963, to continue Hoxsey's work within a safe haven across the border. Hoxsey himself reputedly died of prostate cancer, which could not be cured with his own medications. (Even if true, this is not irrefutable proof that his treatment was worthless.)
There are many testimonials of people claiming to be helped, or even cured, by taking this internal medication. There are an equal number of statements from conventional experts stating that the treatment does or cannot work. Both kinds of statements are difficult to evaluate, since often we don't really know the exact details of the individual's cases.
So for the scientifically minded, inquiries into the effectiveness of treatments usually starts with PubMed. There we get an idea of what the science itself actually shows. But while there are a few dozen articles that reference Hoxsey and his methods, there is not a single scientific paper that objectively evaluates this combined herbal formula through standard scientific methods! You read that right. The Hoxsey controversy goes back 90 years, yet not a single laboratory study has been done of the combined ingredients in this infamous formula.
Conversely, a fair amount is known about the individual ingredients in the formula and it presents a disturbing picture. As the late medical historian of the University of Illinois, Patricia Spain Ward, PhD, once wrote:
“More recent literature leaves no doubt that Hoxsey’s formula, however strangely concocted by modern scientific standards, does indeed contain many plant substances of marked therapeutic activity. In fact, orthodox scientific research has now identified anti-tumor activity in all but three of Hoxsey’s plant ingredients. But whether there is therapeutic merit in Hoxsey’s particular formula for internal use remains as much a question today as it was in the 1920s, despite provocative findings of anti-tumor properties in many of the individual herbs he used. Hoxsey's treatment has never actually been tested, either in animals or in humans.”
These words were written in 1987, but they are as true 30 years later as they were when they were written.
(Patricia Spain Ward, "History of the Hoxsey Treatment," contract report to the Office of Technology Assessment,” 1987, republished in Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, 5.97, pp. 68-72; Unconventional Cancer. Treatments, OTA report to Congress, 1990, (GPO #052-003-01203-3), pp. 75-80; Kupchan, S. M., and A. Karim. “Tumor Inhibitors. 114. Aloe Emodin: Antileukemic Principle Isolated from Rhamnus Frangula L.” Lloydia 39, no. 4 (August 1976): 223–24; Maness, L., I. Goktepe, H. Chen, M. Ahmedna, and S. Sang. “Impact of Phytolacca Americana Extracts on Gene Expression of Colon Cancer Cells.” Phytotherapy Research: PTR 28, no. 2 (February 2014): 219–23. doi:10.1002/ptr.4979; Su, Shan, Xinlai Cheng, and Michael Wink. “Natural Lignans from Arctium Lappa Modulate P-Glycoprotein Efflux Function in Multidrug Resistant Cancer Cells.” Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology 22, no. 2 (February 15, 2015): 301–7. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2014.12.009; Huang, Ke, Li-an Li, Yuan-guang Meng, Yan-qin You, Xiao-yu Fu, and Lei Song. “Arctigenin Promotes Apoptosis in Ovarian Cancer Cells via the iNOS/NO/STAT3/survivin Signalling.” Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology 115, no. 6 (December 2014): 507–11. doi:10.1111/bcpt.12270; Saedi, T. A., S. Ghafourian, M. Jafarlou, M. N. Sabariah, P. Ismail, R. M. T. Eusni, and F. Othman. “BERBERIS VULGARIS FRUIT CRUDE EXTRACT AS A NOVEL ANTI-LEUKAEMIC AGENT.” Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents 29, no. 2 (June 2015): 395–99;