Nonprofit Proposes California Bill to Legalize Integrative Cancer Treatment

Nonprofit proposes California bill to legalize integrative cancer treatment

By Robin Kemker
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 6, 2011 Last Updated: November 7, 2011
Related articles: Health » Western Medicine
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Cancer Treatment Centers of America runs several hospitals and clinics—including the one above in Goodyear, Ariz.—which provide integrative care for cancer patients. A large number of patients come from out of state.(Courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

Cancer Treatment Centers of America runs several hospitals and clinics—including the one above in Goodyear, Ariz.—which provide integrative care for cancer patients. A large number of patients come from out of state.(Courtesy of Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

LOS ANGELES—For the wealthy, integrative medicine (also known as “complementary and alternative medicine” or CAM) for cancer treatment has been available for decades in Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. For most Americans, however, the costs of travel and lodging are prohibitive.

Whereas Western medicine focuses on treating the illness, an integrative approach to health care focuses on treating the whole person, using naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, nutrition, massage, chiropractic, hypnotherapy, and mind-body therapies.

In the U.S., integrative cancer treatment has not been readily available until recent years because various state laws have limited cancer treatments to traditional medical approaches in hospital and clinical settings.

A major obstacle to integrative cancer treatment has been that trained medical practitioners in various alternative modalities are not licensed to practice under the state medical system.

Changing Times

When patients seeking alternative cancer treatment abroad started reporting positive results, word spread around, and the number of people seeking complementary and alternative treatments increased.

In California, where integrative treatment for cancer is currently not allowed, patients are traveling out of state and bearing the financial burden to find the treatment they seek. States bordering California—Nevada and Arizona—and elsewhere where integrative treatment is allowed, are seeing an increasing number of Californians.

“Two-thirds of our patients come from other states,” said Dr. Timothy Birdsall, vice president of Integrative Medicine and chief medical information officer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. CTCA runs several hospitals and clinics that offer integrative treatment of cancer across the United States, including in Seattle, Wash., and Goodyear, Ariz.

According to Dr. Birdsall, a study CTCA conducted found that “a large number [of patients] were using complementary treatments already. However, the patients weren’t telling their primary physician they were doing so.”

There is a risk when patients do not tell their physician about the alternative types of treatments they are using.

“Even though each of the complementary treatments has its place in treating a cancer patient, under certain circumstances, some of these other treatments, for example, large doses of vitamins in one case, negated the chemotherapy,” Birdsall said.

Medical Brain Drain

Patients aren’t the only ones looking beyond state borders. Frustrated physicians are as well. Dr. Len Saputo, who specializes in internal medicine and is a founder of Health Medicine Center, an integrative medicine center located in Walnut Creek, Calif., says medical brain drain is occurring.

“Many California physicians have been frustrated, and some have even relocated to more-user-friendly states because under California Public Health law, it is a felony to use CAM treatments for cancer even when mainstream therapies have failed, have been abandoned, and patients [have been] sent home to die,” Dr. Saputo said.

Advocacy Efforts

More states continue to approve integrated cancer treatment. However, despite a long tradition of cutting-edge research in many disciplines, California has moved more slowly.

California Citizens for Health Freedom (CCHF), an advocacy group and watchdog, has been actively focused on making integrative medicine accessible to Californians. It presented the bill to license naturopaths and presented a successful bill in 2004 to legalize non-cancer medical integrative treatment.

The bill is also meant to protect physicians and naturopathic doctors who want to use integrative medicine to treat cancer. Currently, they are limited to using chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, or they risk losing their medical license, according to CCHF.

This year, CCHF proposed a bill to allow integrative treatment for cancer patients. CCHF President Frank Cuny said: “Californians deserve a more compassionate treatment environment that meets their needs as a whole person.

“This will also make it possible for Californians in our current economy to get this treatment in California, without having to travel to other states. Doctors will also have more treatment options, not available previously.”

Interest in complementary and alternative medicine at the federal level started about 20 years ago. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) established a Complementary and Alternative Medicine section as early as 1992 and established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in October 1998.

The NIH has funded research grants amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars to help determine the effectiveness of the integrative approach to health care.

  • rosemary

    This is simply incredible in California right after the death of Steve Jobs, a billionaire who sought alternative treatment for the cancer which killed him and then according to the news reports regretted his decision to do so. 

    The article implies that many of the wealthy who have gotten alternative cancer treatment abroad have reported being cured when they got home with the result that other cancer patients want to take the same therapy. Do you have a source for that? I don’t remember ever hearing a verified report of anyone who went abroad for alt. treatment who was cured although I have heard verified reports of people doing it and dying after spending a fortune on useless therapies. The reason patients want alternative treatment is because those who sell it publish unverifiable testimonials about those who it has saved.

    The Health Freedom groups I am familiar with are not watchdog groups. They are more like anarchists, extreme Libertarians, who want to eliminate all government regulations regarding health. 

    When I had breast cancer in 1984, the thing I valued most was time. I used it to research my disease so that I could make the best informed decisions possible with the available evidence and to get my affairs in order. If I had been told that there were alt treatments that worked and wasted time on them only to discover that the claim was not supported by objective evidence, I would have been furious. 

    I have been researching alternative medicine since 1995 when I learned that the drug which disfigured me over 50 years ago was being sold as an alt remedy, a “dietary supplement”. What I have learned is that alternative medicine is based on belief, not objective, much less scientific, evidence.

    Rosemary Jacobs

  • William Bond


    Sorry to hear about your experience with some sort of remedy but integrative cancer treatment is far beyond that.  For example, recent medical studies have shown that herbs and vitamins substantially increase long term survival rates when used in combination with conventional therapy.  The reason you see little use of anything except chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery in cancer care is because physicians who recommend anything else risk losing their license and unless a substance is patentable, the ability to have large scale clinical trials is limited.  What you should know about this bill is that it allows treatment of cancer, not for the purposes of cure, but for the purpose of shrinking and slowing the growth of a cancer, and it puts substantial requirements on the physician, including evidence based medicine requirements, in order for a physician to use a particular therapy.  Certainly patients like Steve Jobs, who have a 4%, 5-year survival rate and their physicians should be allowed to consider other cancer therapies that have reasonable, objective merit to try and achieve a cure, or at least try to extend the length and quality of their life.  Without giving reasonable cancer therapies a chance, and not just those fundable by big pharma, the ability to advance how we treat patients with cancer will be forever limited.  I don’t know what “alternative medicine” Mr. Jobs found, as all of them are not equal.

    Here’s a good study for you to read so maybe you can begin see how far integrative medicine has come:


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