Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cancer patients take their hopes to Tijuana

The following article gets right to the heart of much quackery - the selling of false hope - a most despicable activity. Taking advantage of people at the most awful point in their life, when they need true help, but instead get conned. Hulda Clark and her ilk are forms of life somewhat below pond scum.....

Why do people fall for it? They are desperate, and desperate people do irrational things, even though they are sometimes aware that they are acting irrationally.

They indulge in self-deception by claiming to believe things that they merely wish were true, even though they subconsciously know the belief is false. You see, mankind's capacity for deception and self-deception knows no limits.

The following Latin quote is far more true that many people are willing to admit:

Mundas vult decipi (The world wants to be deceived.)

How sad, how true, and how human. Can anyone of us be sure we wouldn't act just as irrationally if we had a gun to our head?



Cancer patients take their hopes to Tijuana
Border city is world alternative therapy centre

Jo Tuckman in Tijuana
Saturday May 21, 2005


Farooq Hussain had never thought of visiting Mexico before he was diagnosed with stage four cancer in March. Now the 32-year-old Leeds builder has come to this border city in search of treatment to save his life.

"I'm a desperate man trying to cling on to hope," he says with an embarrassed grin as he mulls the menu of unusual therapies at the Oasis of Hope clinic. "Everything I hear about here makes me think that could be for me, and then in the back of my mind I'm thinking it sounds too good to be true."

Tijuana is home to the largest concentration of cancer treatment centres offering unorthodox therapies anywhere in the world. More than 60 hospitals, clinics and semi-clandestine offices offer to cure or help control the disease in ways ranging from the unconventional to the controversial.

Some revolve around purported detoxification methods such as enemas or electrical therapy. Some concentrate on the immune system, while others claim to work on the blood. One is producing an anti-cancer "vaccine".

Most methods are discouraged by conventional medical science, which is why they are based in Tijuana, where health regulators rarely bother them.

Close on the US border, they mostly attract Americans, but also an increasing number of Britons, Australians and Japanese.

Many patients pay more than £20,000 for treatments that are promoted by anecdotal evidence of dramatic improvements or even total remission, but dismissed by oncologists as bad science relying on the placebo effect, the odd case of spontaneous remission and shameless quackery.

Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and aromatherapy may be gaining credibility as means to improve quality of life, but the backbone of accepted cancer treatments remains surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The sensitivity of the issue in Britain was underlined last year when Prince Charles was severely reprimanded by a leading cancer specialist after claiming a nutritionally based treatment called Gerson Therapy had helped put a woman he knew into remission. Gerson, like so much else, is available in Tijuana.

"The problem is that there is little or no evidence to support the claims of these treatments and some of them are potentially harmful," says Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK. "The Tijuana clinics are essentially set up to deceive and it's a disgrace."

But it is hard for even purists like Dr Sullivan to reproach Mr Hussain for looking outside conventional methods after he was told two months ago that he had a soft tissue sarcoma in the thigh with metastasis in the lungs. He was given six months to a year to live, with the chance of an additional nine months if he responded well to chemotherapy.

"I was a wreck," remembered Mr. Hussain, who for the moment at least says he still feels relatively healthy apart from the pain in his leg from a 12cm (about 5in) tumour. "I'd lived my life a bit like I couldn't be arsed, but when something like that happens to you it changes a lot of things. I came to realise that I've got a lot to gain and nothing to lose."

His deeply determined wife, Jerry Malik, needed less time to find hope. She plugged into the internet, entered "cancer breakthroughs" into search engines, and plunged herself into the enormous amount of information out there about alternative treatments, all the while pushing her husband to believe that the end was not necessarily nigh. The 25-year-old customer liaison officer is confident that she has researched her topic well and subscribes to the argument from alternative practitioners that the medical establishment disapproves of their therapies because these threaten conventional drug company profits.

"The conventional doctors, they haven't really offered us anything, just chemo," she said. "I know that we probably won't find a cure, but if they can give him another 15 or 20 years we can live with that."

The couple were married five years ago and are clearly still very much in love, having weathered the family furore their relationship first caused because Mr Hussain had previously been married to Ms Malik's elder sister.

Now they receive constant calls from the extended family back in Leeds for updates on the treatment which they will pay for with donations from their many siblings, uncles and aunts.

Before coming to Tijuana the couple first explored Muslim faith healing. Immediately after the diagnosis they travelled around Pakistan for three weeks, visiting mosques and seeking spiritual guidance from holy men.

They have become much more devout, reading the Koran together and sharing an amazingly upbeat attitude most of the time which they say is rooted in their faith.

Once a patient is sure he or she wants to try unorthodox methods, making the final choice of which one can be bewildering.

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary and alternative medicine at Exeter University, says many of these therapies are available in the UK but Britons are attracted to Tijuana "because the clinics there are famous".

In Tijuana there are some clear common themes, such as the removal of carcinogenic substances believed to be in the body and claims to be able to boost the immune system's ability to fight the disease.

Detoxification methods range from the widespread practice of coffee enemas to the exclusive Zapper developed by a particularly notorious Tijuana-based practitioner called Hulda Clark.

Part of the cure involves being hooked up to the Zapper, a low-voltage electrical device that Ms Clark claims kills the parasites which she insists cause all cancers.

Treatments on offer in Tijuana promising to strengthen the immune system range from drinking gallons of fruit juices to treating the patient's blood with ozone and ultraviolet light, which purportedly boosts white cell energy. Other therapies claim to act directly on the tumour.

At least one clinic says it can make vaccines from the cancerous cells, and with them trigger the malignancy to self-destruct. This is cutting-edge science at the big cancer research centres and there are doubts that any Tijuana doctor has the facilities to develop such a treatment.

In the end, Farooq Hussain and his wife were most convinced by the Issels treatment, which includes lots of fruit juice and coffee enemas three times a day, as well as ozone and UV blood treatment and intravenous application of an extract made from apricot pips.

The centrepiece of the month-long $40,000 (£21,900) treatment is the induction of extreme fevers, based on the theory that cancer cells are destroyed by the heat.

"I'm going to do everything I can now and if I find out that I am not going to be cured and that I am going to die, then at least I will know that I tried," said Mr Hussain.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005