Screw The Woo Woo! Avoiding Harmful “Alternative Treatment” Scams

It’s Day 7 of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Being on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that, and have the internal and external scars to prove it. Navigating the healthcare system to find someone with answers who can tell you what type of breast cancer you have and how best to treat it can be a challenge. And standard of care treatments like chemotherapy and radiation cause major anxiety due to their side effects. It is tempting to look for treatments that will work without side effects.

Scammers prey upon anxiety, fear, and desperation to peddle “alternative treatments” that have not been clinically tested and for which there is no evidence to support anti-cancer properties. These so-called treatments do nothing to stop the cancer from growing and do not kill cancer cells in the body. Some may actually cause harm. And the costs are astronomical.

Quick note: This post is about “Alternative Medicine,” not “Complementary Alternative Medicine.” They may sound alike, but they are two very different things. “Complementary Alternative Therapies” are used in addition to standard of care cancer treatments and are monitored by healthcare professionals. These may include mindfulness meditation, yoga, and acupuncture among others. Spiritual practices may also be complementary alternative therapy approaches. These are fine to try so long as you let your healthcare provider know about them and as long as you take your standard of care medicines or treatments.

By contrast, “Alternative Medicine” scam artists actively discourage conventional standard of care treatments in favor of their woo woo treatments. I’ve covered a variety of woo woo scams on this blog, but when I found this one, I was livid. There are actual “clinics” in Mexico that offer alternative therapies, charge exorbitant prices for them, and cause harm and quite possibly death to desperate cancer patients.

***Note: this is not a dig at legitimate hospitals and cancer treatment centers located in Mexico***

I refuse to link these so-called practices, but they go by names like “Oasis of Hope,” specializing in “Holistic and Alternative Cancer Treatment” like oxygenation therapy (doesn’t do a thing for cancer), hyperthermia (can help other cancer treatments like radiation and chemo work better but isn’t meant to be used alone), vitamins and supplements (see previous post), ozone autohemotherapy (which is not approved by the FDA and is classified as a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy) and “natural cancer treatments” that they do not define but their white papers (not peer reviewed or published in scientific journals) mention intravenous curcumin (covered in a previous post) and vitamin K (see previous post on antioxidant and supplement therapies). Spoiler alert: these “therapies” have not been shown to be effective at treating breast cancer in clinical trials. Worse, these are on a subpage marketed to people with stage IV breast cancer, some of the most vulnerable people living with cancer. And they do not accept insurance, being located in Tijuana, Mexico, so patients must pay out-of-pocket. For Oasis of Hope, costs range from $19,000 for 18 days of treatment to $29,950 for an “enhanced” experience that lasts 20 days.

Another dubious clinic in Tijuana called “Immunity Therapy Center” is run by a man named Dr. Bautista. He, too, offers alternative treatments much like those from Oasis of Hope in addition to bovine and shark cartilage (not FDA approved for cancer treatment), magna rays (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and “detox,” something your liver does for you normally so you really don’t need specialized chelators and vitamin supplements to do it. As for the immune therapy, the dendritic cell vaccines described on the website are being testing in clinical trials for breast cancer in the United States, but they are not currently approved and we don’t yet know if they really work. That’s another insidious way scammer deceive cancer patients – they use jargon and buzz words from legitimate medical treatments to lend themselves false credibility.

These types of “clinics” are everywhere, not just Mexico. Using a simple Google search, I found them in Arizona, Minnesota, California, Tennessee, the United Kingdom, Georgia, and Illinois on the first page. Many were marked as ads, which is another red flag.

So how do you know if you’re receiving information about legitimate cancer treatments versus scams? This handy video guide from the National Cancer Institute is a great place to start. First and foremost, talk to your doctors and healthcare providers, who should be licensed, board certified, and have expertise in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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