A last chance? Many more U.S. citizens are going to Mexico to get cancer treatment.

U.S. citizens are going to Mexico to get cancer treatment.

More than a million U.S. citizens annually travel south of the border to Mexico in search of medical treatment. Patients with terminal illnesses are among those who are travelling.

U.S. Cancer Statistics

The American Cancer Society estimates that around 2 million individuals will be diagnosed with cancer this year. The epidemic claimed the lives of almost 600,000.

Surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy are the standard methods for dealing with cancer.

Patients without health insurance face an average out-of-pocket expense of $42,000 annually after a diagnosis. Patients might still be shocked by the cost of healthcare, even with insurance. Costs for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment may rapidly push the total past $100,000, and many policies have a deductible in the thousands that someone must meet before the insurance kicks in.

Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery entail both a high monetary cost and a high physical cost, such as acute tiredness, hair loss, nausea, and a suppressed immunological response.

According to Pacific Prime Latin America, an uninsured individual in Mexico should expect to spend around 50% to 70% less than in the U.S.

In addition to the clinics’ claims of using a less strenuous therapy method, this brings American patients to Mexico.

According to Francisco Contreras, director, president, and chairman of Tijuana’s Oasis of Hope Hospital, many Americans visit his facility annually.

He claims that 80% are American and 20% come from elsewhere globally.

Numerous visitors claim they were “sent home to die” before arriving.

Eighty-five to ninety per cent of our patients have reached their limit and come to see us as a result. He claims that they were at a loss for options.

So they go to Mexico out of desperation. More and more people are coming here as a first resort, yet most of our visitors have tried conventional treatments first and failed.

Optional Substitutes

Clinics in Mexico provide both traditional medicine and complementary therapies.

Treatment of the disease itself is only one part of a comprehensive approach used by many hospitals and clinics. Some hospitals even have walls painted in hues said to promote recovery, and patients may visit with religious leaders or get therapeutic massages.

To entice international patients, hospitals and clinics provide state-of-the-art equipment and novel approaches to cancer treatment.

Alternative medicines, including ozone therapy and intravenous vitamin C, are administered by a handful of clinics in the United States despite not being licenced by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some of the treatments available include irradiating tumours with light (photodynamic therapy), subjecting patients to extreme heat (whole-body hyperthermia), and inhaling pure oxygen in a specific chamber (hyperbaric oxygen therapy).

Drug regulation in Mexico is far less stringent than in the United States, where strict guidelines make it difficult to get innovative therapies before the completion of rigorous clinical studies.

Between $800 million and $1 billion have been proposed.

It is needed to bring medicine or therapy to market, and proponents of alternative cancer cures argue that this price tag is prohibitive.

The FDA requires proof of a product’s efficacy and safety before approval, Dr Contreras adds.

Therefore, proof of efficacy is often relatively simple to provide. I mean, we know the tumour is there and at risk. You may take chemotherapy until the point where the cancer disappears, but the patient still dies; this has nothing to do with the treatment’s safety.

As far as the FDA is concerned, it makes no difference. That natural product you have? You still need to spend that $800 million on it. The issue with this is that no patent will be issued since the process is entirely natural.

One tendency among Mexican cancer hospitals, in line with this more “natural” approach, is to concentrate on boosting the immune system to combat the disease.

“There is no doubt that a person with the immune system working for him or her at 100 per cent will not develop cancer,” Dr Contreras explains.

“When we work for our patients instead of against the tumour, meaning if I provide resources to improve the quality and quantity of the immune system, I have a much better opportunity to help that patient survive much longer than expected, and in many cases, the patient can be cured.”

The Tijuana and Cancun-based cancer treatment institute Hope4Cancer places equal emphasis on the immune system’s role in warding off the illness.

Before they may multiply and become cancerous, normal immune systems detect and destroy aberrant cells. However, after cancer has formed, the immune system plays a crucial role by combating the tumour and preventing it from spreading to other body regions.

Nutritional supplements and “detoxification” programmes are common components of treatment regimens clinics offer to strengthen the immune system.

The oncology department of Hospital Angeles in Tijuana, a famous healthcare facility for American medical tourists, provides a detoxification procedure to aid patients in their battle against cancer.

“Detoxification is a cardinal step in managing cancer and any other chronic degenerative disease,” the hospital website states.

We start our detox by making sure the systems and organs in charge of detoxification (i.e., getting rid of toxins) are in good working order and getting the resources they need to do their jobs.

Hope in vain

However, medical specialists in the United States have been concerned about the therapies available in Mexican cancer clinics for decades.

Healthcare experts, including oncologists, have complained that many cancer centres in Mexico use experimental therapies marketed as “non-toxic,” “natural,” or “cutting edge” to take advantage of their patients’ desperation.

For instance, certain Mexican clinics have long provided laetrile as a therapy, despite no human trials and very little peer-reviewed evidence supporting claims that it reduces tumour size.

Scientist and author David Robert Grimes writes in The Irish Times that cancer clinics in Mexico that promote alternative treatments are misleading patients into paying for placebos.

“Sunivera, for example, is a repacking of the protein GcMAF, a debunked cancer intervention,” he noted, referencing a sort of immunotherapy used by several hospitals.

This therapy can and does kill people, which is why it is illegal in the United States and Europe.

He says that many of the so-called “immunotherapy” medicines now on the market are “long-discredited folk remedies, peddled in expensive new packaging.”

Although some patients undergoing alternative therapies at Mexican clinics may see temporary improvement, other specialists argue that this is often due to the cessation of painful traditional treatments, and the condition typically worsens.

Cancer patients in Mexico “do not get the same protections, which allows healthcare professionals… to offer experimental interventions without the regulations that can curb in excess risk,” according to research by the Office for Science and Society at McGill University.

“The line between avant-garde and fraudulent becomes blurred,” as “quack clinics are appropriating treatments that show real promise.”

Even while most of the alternative therapies offered by Mexico’s most reputable clinics pose no danger when used in conjunction with traditional medicine, the opposite is true when regular medicine is abandoned in favour of them. Even proponents of incorporating alternative therapies into standard medical practice advise exercising care.

Integrative oncology pioneer Barrie Cassileth warned that “unproven approaches are dangerous to patients” in an article for the medical journal Oncology.

In the context of medical care, it is seen that individuals often choose to forgo traditional treatment and instead embrace alternative therapies, especially in cases when the latter does not pose any damage but fails to effectively alleviate their ailment.

Patients from the United States keep coming here despite the doubts and cautions of professionals back home.

Dr Contreras adds, “We are usually criticised for selling false hope.” But I must inquire: what is genuine hope? Wow, you died, didn’t you? You know you can’t make it, right? It’s either hopeful or it isn’t.

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