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Cancer Treatment Centers of America Complaints

The Cancer Treatment Centers of America are a network of four privately run hospitals—located in Chicago, Philadelphia, Tulsa, and suburban Phoenix—which focuses solely on treating cancer. They tout a comprehensive approach to cancer treatment, one that involves conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, to alternative treatments and everything in between, including diet and psychosocial support. This broadly integrated "whole-person cancer treatment" is referred to as the "Mother Standard of Care."

According to the story, CTCA was founded by Richard J Stephenson, whose mother was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1980s. Stephenson was so upset over his mother's care—namely that top treatment centers stressed the "clinical and technical aspects" of cancer care and neglected the individual—that he launched CTCA with the goal in mind of offering the treatment his mother never received.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Accredited?

CTCA's cancer hospitals are not associated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) nor the NCI's network of comprehensive cancer centers . However, they enjoy accreditation from several prominent healthcare associations, although arguably the most important among them is the accreditation from the the Joint Commission, the body that inspects and rates US hospitals.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Complaints

To some, CTCA is better known as the target of the Federal Trade Commission. In fact the FTC has come after CTCA more than once.

In 1993, the FTC went after CTCA because the hospital network was advertising treatment success rates using various therapeutic modalities on several different cancers that were not only higher than the national average, but also ones that CTCA could not back up with any evidence. In 1996 CTCA reached a settlement with the FCC that said, in effect, that they would have to provide scientific evidence of any claims going forward.

In 2001, CTCA received a far more serious complaint, but one that has much to do with the complaint filed by the FTC in 1993. In 2001, the FDA sent CTCA a detailed and damning warning letter claiming that in three clinical trials, CTCA investigators "violated regulations governing the proper conduct of clinical studies involving investigational new drugs." The warning referred to three extremely small clinical studies being carried out by the CTCA.

The relationship this has with the previous FCC issue is thus: if CTCA produced scientific data from these protocols (none involving more than six patients), they could then extrapolate that into a treatment claim that they might make in an advertisement, thereby fulfilling the demands of the FCC but doing so in an extraordinarily underhanded manner.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Today

Commercials for CTCA remain astonishingly misleading. Not only do they skirt FTC demands by presenting individual experiences as potentially applying to everyone (even though they include a small disclaimer), including experiences from survivors of notoriously fatal cancers such as cancer of the pancreas, they also boast of having higher treatment success rates for difficult cancers than "the national averages".

This boast is most likely true, but only because "national averages" are dragged down by the substandard care given at hundreds if not thousands of community hospitals across the country. If CTCA were serious about putting their record up against the best, they would do so against the 21 treatment centers that make up the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

To be fair, the FTC holds the CTCA to different standards than it holds non-profit hospitals. While for-profit hospitals like CTCA must provide proof of any claims made in their advertisements, non-profit hospitals can currently make just about any claim they want to make, without having to back up that claim with a shred of scientific evidence.