1. Promise of holistic healing draws cancer patients to Mexico clinics
Despite controversial origins and consistent bad press in the United States, Tijuana's border clinics continue to attract people like the Hausers, who are in search of more holistic approaches to cancer treatment. Because little data exist on how many clinics are operating, it's unclear how many American cancer patients visit Mexico each year, said Stephen Barrett, a patient advocate who runs the Web site, http://www.quackwatch.com/. "If they answered, you could not be sure they were telling the truth. They might have an incentive to raise the number," he said in an e-mail. "To make matters more complicated, many of the 'cancer' clinics also see people who don't have cancer." The concept of complementary and alternative cancer treatment has slowly been gaining acceptance for more than a decade in the United States, with the creation of entities including the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But no one recommends that alternative treatment be used to replace conventional care, such as chemotherapy or radiation, he said. As far as Tijuana's border clinics are concerned, the American Cancer Society cautions that "methods promoted in Mexican border clinics are not consistent with scientific understanding" of cancer and its treatment. "Although these clinics often claim great success in advertisements and books, they have not published convincing evidence in medical journals to support those claims," the ACS says in a section on its Web site called Questionable Cancer Practices In Mexico. "Patients traveling to the Tijuana area for treatment appear to be subjecting themselves to costly and potentially hazardous regimens, especially if they postpone standard medical care." Loose regulatory standards in Mexico allow Tijuana's clinics to thrive, many offering expensive treatment in luxurious, spa-like settings, complete with fresh meals, exercise classes and emotional and spiritual counseling. Many herbs and dietary supplements used in border clinics are not considered dangerous; they just have not been put through the rigorous clinical trials required for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve them for use as cancer treatments. Others, like the antioxidants carotene, lycopene and vitamins C, E and A, have produced inconsistent results in large-scale trials and are still being researched. Still others, like laetrile, a chemical compound whose active ingredient is cyanide, can be dangerous, the National Cancer Institute says. But many patients say they are attracted by the warm, caring relationship between patient and clinic staff.
CNN by Emanuella Grinberg