Cancer cure a fraud, U.S. says
A B.C. company is the focus of an investigation
An Okanagan-based company that claims its treatment can kill cancer cells is facing charges after a year-long undercover investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Cell Specific Cancer Therapy Inc. based in Naramata, had been using its Internet Web site to advertise its $15,000 US electromagnetic cancer treatments at a Mexican clinic. It boasted it has treated 800 cancer patients since opening in 1998.
"This is sham therapy," said Howard Beales, the Federal Trade Commission's director of consumer protection. "It has absolutely no effect on cancer cells. And tragically, some consumers lost a lot more than $15,000. They lost time."
Food and Drug Administration commissioner Mark McClellan said faith in the treatment had caused some people to delay therapies that could have saved their lives and caused unnecessary suffering among those who could not be saved by any means.
About 850 people received the treatments at the Tijuana clinic over five years, said Don Mercer, an assistant deputy commissioner of the Canadian Competition Bureau, which is conducting a criminal investigation. No charges have been laid yet.
Mercer said most of the patients were American, but about 10 per cent were Canadian.
The FTC's lawsuit charges the company with using its Internet site and telemarketing to make false claims that its treatment would shrink cancer cells in the breast, lung, brain, liver and elsewhere. The company advertised that its technique would not damage healthy cells, the way traditional treatments do, the FTC said.
U.S. District Court in Chicago issued a temporary injunction prohibiting CSCT from making the claims, freezing the company's assets and shutting down its Web site.
The FTC's complaint, filed Feb. 6 in Chicago, names CSCT, based in Naramata, as well as CSCT Ltd., based in London. It names John Leslie Armstrong and Michael John Reynolds as officers of the company.
Armstrong, described as a U.S. citizen living in Naramata, could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls to his residence. Reynolds lives in Toronto.
The commission files a civil complaint when it has reason to believe the law has been broken, and a court decides the issue.
Dr. Brian Weinerman, spokesman for the B.C. Cancer Agency, said the search for alternative therapy is common among cancer patients.
"Cancer is a very scary disease and often when we speak to people we tell them there's not a lot of treatment that we may be able to give that will necessarily markedly change the course of that disease," Weinerman said from Victoria.
"It's quite natural, therefore, for people to say, `I want something that has a better outcome, with more hope.'"
Weinerman said health treatments should get government scrutiny and people should be protected from any fraud, but said people should still be free to select an unproven treatment.
"People want the free ability to go and look for and perhaps take things which are not medically proven. . . I don't think people will want the government to stop them from doing that, either."
FTC attorney Katherine Romano Schnack said she hopes publicity around the case will spur possible victims to contact officials. So far there are only three complaints - all from U.S. citizens.
"We're trying to find out how many were involved and ultimately the goal in addition to stopping this is to try and get money back to the victims. That's why we asked for and received an asset freeze."
A brochure for Cell Specific Cancer Therapy also called "Zoetron Therapy" states the therapy is "designed to kill cancerous cells without harming normal cells in any way."
According to the FTC, consumers would have to travel at their own expense to Tijuana, Mexico to obtain treatments that consisted of exposing them to the "Zoetron" machine - a device which purportedly uses a pulsed magnetic field to heat and kill cancer cell.
Schnack said any time a company makes a claim such as this to kill cancer, the case is "compelling" to investigate because consumers' health is at risk.
She said consumers may forgo traditional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation and undertake the CSCT therapy instead.
Gloria Owens of Portage, Ind., put off experimental chemotherapy to try the therapy at another CSCT clinic, in the Dominican Republic, after doctors said her brain cancer was terminal, her daughter said at a news conference held by the FTC.
Her mother spent $20,000 for 10 days of the treatments while her condition steadily worsened, Shelia Lewandowski said at the news conference.
Owens, 61, returned home, no longer strong enough to walk, and died four days later, on June 1, 1998. The clinic in the Dominican Republic and another in Switzerland have since closed.