Hoxsey Therapy

For over three decades, Harry Hoxsey (1901-1974), a self-taught healer, cured many cancer patients using an herbal remedy reportedly handed down by his great-grandfather. By the 1950s, the Hoxsey Cancer Clinic in Dallas was the world’s largest private cancer center, with branches in seventeen states. Born in Illinois, the charismatic practitioner of herbal folk medicine faced unrelenting opposition and harassment from a hostile medical establishment. Nevertheless, two federal courts upheld the “therapeutic value” of Hoxsey’s internal tonic. Even his archenemies, the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration, admitted that his treatment could cure some forms of cancer. A Dallas judge ruled in federal court that Hoxsey’s therapy was “comparable to surgery, radium, and x-ray” in its effectiveness, without the destructive side effects of those treatments.

But in the 1950s, at the tail end of the McCarthy era, Hoxsey’s clinics were shut down. The AMA, NCI, and FDA organized a “conspiracy” to “suppress” a fair, unbiased assessment of Hoxsey’s methods, according to a 1953 federal report to Congress. Hoxsey’s Dallas clinic closed its doors in 1960, and three years later, at Hoxsey’s request, Mildred Nelson, R.N., his long-time chief nurse, moved the operation to Tijuana, Mexico.

The Bio-Medical Center, as the clinic is now called, treats all types of cancer, with Nelson overseeing a staff of fully licensed medical doctors and support personnel. The records indicate that many patients, some arriving with late stages of the disease, have been helped and even completely healed of cancer by the nontoxic Hoxsey therapy, which today combines internal and external herbal preparations with a diet, vitamin and mineral supplements, and attitudinal counseling.

The medical orthodoxy labeled Harry Hoxsey “the worst cancer quack of the century.” His herbal medicine was denigrated as worthless, simply “a bottle of colored water” containing extracts of useless backyard weeds. FDA officials would go to patients’ houses, intimidate them, tell them they were being duped by a quack, and take away their Hoxsey medicines. The American Cancer Society added the Hoxsey therapy to its blacklist of Unproven Methods in 1968, using its customary phraseology about the lack of any evidence that the treatment works.

Yet no representative of the ACS has ever visited the Bio-Medical Center or scientifically tested the Hoxsey remedies. Hoxsey repeatedly urged the AMA and NCI to conduct a scientific investigation of his formulas, but his pleas went unanswered. Instead, his practice was outlawed, the FDA banning the sale of all Hoxsey medications in 1960. His therapy was driven out of the country by a close-minded medical fraternity that continues to view inexpensive, nontoxic herbal medicine as a direct competitive threat.

Today we know that Hoxsey’s plant-based remedies contain naturally occurring compounds with potent anticancer effects. According to eminent botanist James Duke, Ph.D., of the United States Department of Agriculture, all of the Hoxsey herbs have known anticancer properties.1 ~ All of them are cited in Plants Used Against Cancer, a global compendium of folk usage of medicinal plants compiled by NCI chemist Jonathan Hartwell. Furthermore, Duke noted, the Hoxsey herbs have long been used by Native American healers to treat cancer, and traveling European doctors picked up the knowledge and took it home with them to treat patients.

Hoxsey treated external cancers with a red paste made of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis~a common wildflower-mixed with zinc chloride and antimony sulfide. The rootstock of bloodroot, a spring-blooming flower, contains an alkaloid, sanguinarine, that has powerful anti-tumor properties. North American Indians living along the shores of Lake Superior used the red sap from bloodroot to treat cancer. Drawing on Indian lore, Dr. J. W. Fell, working at Middlesex Hospital in London in the 1850s, developed a paste made of bloodroot extract, zinc chloride, flour, and water. Applied directly to a malignant growth, Dr. Fell’s paste generally destroyed it within two to four weeks. In the 1960s, various teams of doctors reported the complete healing of cancers of the nose, external ear, and other organs using a paste made of bloodroot and zinc chloride-a mixture virtually identical to Hoxsey’s.2

The American Medical Association condemned Hoxsey’s “caustic pastes” as fraudulent in 1949, even though a prominent Wisconsin surgeon, Dr. Frederick Mohs, in 1941 had used a red paste identical to Hoxsey’s to fix cancerous tissue that he surgically removed under complete microscopic control.3

Medical historian Patricia Spain Ward reported “provocative findings of antitumor properties” in many of the individual Hoxsey herbs when she investigated the Hoxsey regimen in 1988 for the United States Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment.4 The basic ingredients of Hoxsey’s internal tonic are potassium iodide and such substances as licorice, red clover, burdock root, stillingia root, barberis root, pokeroot, cascara, prickly ash bark, and buckthorn bark. Ward noted that “orthodox scientific research has by now identified antitumor activity” in most of Hoxsey’s plants.

For example, two Hungarian scientists in 1966 reported “considerable antitumor activity” in a purified fraction of burdock. Japanese researchers at Nagoya University in 1984 found in burdock a new type of desmutagen, a substance that is uniquely capable of reducing mutation in either the absence or the presence of metabolic activation. This new property is so important, the Japanese scientists named it the B-factor, for “burdock factor.”5

Hoxsey himself believed that his therapy normalized and balanced the chemistry within the body. Like many other holistic healers, he considered cancer to be a systemic disease, not a localized one. Cancer, he wrote, “occurs only in the presence of a profound physiological change in the constituents of body fluids and a consequent chemical imbalance in the organism.” His herbal medicines are intended to restore the original chemical balance to the body’s disturbed metabolism, creating an environment unfavorable to cancer cells, which cease to multiply and eventually die.6 The herbal remedies are said to strengthen the immune system and to help carry away wastes and toxins from the tumors that the herbal compounds caused to necrotize. While this theory may be inexact, current research appears to be vindicating Hoxsey, or at least showing that his method merits a thorough, unbiased investigation by the medical orthodoxy.

Mildred Nelson was first introduced to the Hoxsey approach in 1946, when her mother, Della Mae Nelson, underwent the Hoxsey therapy for cancer. Mildred, a conventionally trained nurse from Jacksboro, Texas, believed Hoxsey was a quack, so she went to Dallas to try to talk Della Mae out of her foolishness. Instead, she ended up taking a job at Hoxsey’s clinic as a nurse. Her mother recovered and is alive and well today. Mildred’s father was also treated by Hoxsey for a recurrence of cancer in the eye socket, having had one cancerous eye removed earlier. He became cancer-free and remained so until his death in 1957 from meningitis.

According to Hoxsey’s autobiography, You Don’t Have to Die (see Resources), his family’s healing saga began in 1840 when Illinois horse breeder John Hoxsey, his great grandfather, watched a favorite stallion recover from a cancerous lesion on its leg. The horse, put out to pasture to die, grazed on one particular clump of shrubs and flowering plants and healed itself. John Hoxsey picked samples of these plants, experimented with them, and formulated an herbal liquid, a salve, and a powder. He used these medications to treat cancer, fistula, and sores in horses that breeders brought from as far away as Indiana and Kentucky. The herbal formulas were handed down within the family, and Harry’s father,John, a veterinary surgeon, began quietly treating human cancer patients. From the age of eight, Harry served as his father’s trusted assistant. After years on the road as an itinerant healer, he opened the first Hoxsey Cancer Clinic in Dallas in 1924.

Thus began a protracted battle pitting Harry Hoxsey, an ex-coal miner and Texas oilman whose family traced its lineage to Plymouth Colony, against the American medical establishment. Hoxsey was arrested more times than any person in medical history, usually for practicing medicine without a license. But no cancer patient ever testified against him. On the contrary, his patients would gather at the jail in a show of support, hastening his release. Senators, judges, and some doctors endorsed his anticancer treatment. Although the colorful, flamboyant healer fit the stereotyped image of a quack, legions of supporters, once gravely ill with cancer, said they owed their lives and continued well-being to him.

Finally, in 1954, an independent team of ten physicians from around the United States made a two-day inspection of Hoxsey’s Dallas clinic and issued a remarkable statement. After examining hundreds of case histories and interviewing patients and ax-patients, the doctors released a signed report declaring that the clinic. . . is successfully treating pathologically proven cases of cancer, both internal and external, without the use of surgery, radium or x-ray.

Accepting the standard yardstick of cases that have remained symptom-free in excess of five to six years after treatment, established by medical authorities, we have seen sufficient cases to warrant such a conclusion. Some of those presented before us have been free of symptoms as long as twenty-four years, and the physical evidence indicates that they are all enjoying exceptional health at this time.

We as a Committee feel that the Hoxsey treatment is superior to such conventional methods of treatment as x-ray, radium, and surgery. We are willing to assist this Clinic in any way possible in bringing this treatment to the American public.

But the treatment was denied to the American public. In 1924, according to Hoxsey’s autobiography, Dr. Malcolm Harris, an eminent Chicago surgeon and later president of the AMA, had offered to buy out the Hoxsey anticancer tonic after watching Hoxsey successfully treat a terminal patient. Hoxsey would get 10 percent of the profits, according to the offer, but only after ten years. The AMA would set the fees, keep all the profits for the first nine years, then reap 90 percent of the profits from the tenth year on. The alleged offer would have given all control to a group of doctors including AMA boss Dr. Morris Fishbein.

Hoxsey refused the offer, or so he claims. The AMA denies that any such incident ever occurred. In any event, two things are certain: The “terminal” cancer patient, police Sergeant Thomas Mannix, fully recovered and lived another decade. And Morris Fishbein became a powerful, relentless enemy of Hoxsey.

Another opponent was Assistant District Attorney Al Templeton, who arrested Hoxsey more than 100 times in Dallas over a two-year period. Then, in 1939, Templeton’s younger brother, Mike, developed cancer. He had a colostomy, but the cancer continued to spread; his doctors told him nothing more could be done for him. When Mike secretly went to Hoxsey and was cured, Al Templeton had a change of heart. The once-hostile prosecutor became Hoxsey’s lawyer.

Esquire magazine sent reporter James Burke to Texas in 1939 with the aim of doing an expose that would discredit Hoxsey as a worth less, dangerous quack. Burke stayed six weeks, became a strong supporter of Hoxsey and later his publicist, and filed a story entitled “The Quack Who Cures Cancer.” Esquire never published it.

In 1949, Morris Fishbein, longtime editor of the Joumal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), wrote an attack on Hoxsey that was published in the Hearst papers’ Sunday magazine supplement, read by 20 million people. In the piece, entitled “Blood Money,” Fishbein, the influential “voice of American medicine,” portrayed Hoxsey as a malevolent charlatan and repeated many of the unsubstantiated charges that he had been printing for years in JAMA.

Hoxsey sued Fishbein and the Hearst newspaper empire for libel and slander. It seemed a hopeless David-versus~-Goliath contest, but Hoxsey won. Although his monetary award was just two dollars, he achieved a stunning moral victory. Fifty of his patients testified on his behalf. The judge found Fishbein’s statements to be “false, slanderous and libelous.” And Fishbein made astonishing admissions during the trial, such as that he had failed anatomy in medical school and had never treated a patient or practiced a day of medicine in his entire career. Even more shocking, Dr. Fishbein admitted in court that Hoxsey’s supposedly “brutal” pastes actually did cure external cancer.

The leader of America’s “quack attack” was now on the defensive. Critics charged the AMA with being a doctor’s trade union, setting national medical policy to further its own selfish interests. The United States Supreme Court agreed that the AMA had conspired in restraint of trade. Dr. Fishbein was forced to resign.

In 1953, the Fitzgerald Report, commissioned by a United States Senate committee, concluded that organized medicine had “conspired” to suppress the Hoxsey therapy and at least a dozen other promising cancer treatments. The proponents of these unconventional methods were mostly respected doctors and scientists who had developed nutritional or immunological approaches. Panels of surgeons and radiation therapists had dismissed the therapies as quackery, and these promising treatments were banned without a serious investigation. They all remain to this day on the American Cancer Society’s blacklist of “Unproven Methods of Cancer Management.”

By this time, the Hoxsey clinic in Dallas had 12,000 patients and Harry Hoxsey was contemplating running for governor of Texas, a post that would enable him to appoint the state medical board and thereby get an impartial investigation into his therapy. Hordes of Hoxsey’s patients flooded Washington, D.C., demanding medical freedom of choice. Hoxsey threatened to picket the White House with 25,000 cured patients. But the FDA and other federal agencies mounted a massive legal and paralegal assault. A therapy with the potential to help cancer sufferers was hounded out of the country.

When Mildred Nelson moved the clinic to Mexico in 1963, Hoxsey stayed in Dallas in the oil business. In 1967, he developed prostate cancer. He took his own tonic, but ironically, it didn’t work for him. Although surgery is fairly routine for prostate cancer, he refused to have it, fearing that the Dallas doctors would take their revenge on him on the operating table. Hoxsey spent his last seven years as an invalid, dying in isolation, nearly forgotten. He was buried around Christmas in 1974, without an obituary or tribute in the Dallas newspapers.

The Bio-Medical Center in Tijuana, a glass-walled mansion within sight of the United States-Mexico border, is an outpatient clinic only. Patients who arrive before 9 A.M. are seen without an appointment. They are given a complete workup, including a physical examination, lab tests, and X-rays, and have their clinical history taken. Patients are advised to bring existing medical records from other hospitals and facilities. After their appointment, which usually lasts one full day, sometimes longer, patients return home with enough Hoxsey medications and supplements to last several months. They are encouraged to make a follow-up visit after three to six months.

The herbal tonics, salves, and powders given are adjusted to suit the specific needs of each patient, taking into account his or her general health, the location and severity of the cancer, and the extent of previous treatments for it. The Hoxsey therapy is reportedly effective in alleviating pain in many cases.

Dietary specifications include the total avoidance of pork, vinegar, tomatoes, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. The forbidden foods are thought to work against the therapeutic action of the medicine. Patients are also told not to consume bleached flour or refined sugar and to ingest very limited amounts of salt. Supplements include immune stimulants, yeast tablets, vitamin C, calcium capsules, laxative tablets, and antiseptic washes. Patients are counseled to adopt a positive mental outlook and to assume complete responsibility for their own health. The clinic also offers chelation, immunotherapy, and homeopathy, as well as chemotherapy in extremely serious, life-threatening cases.

The types of cancer said to respond best to the treatment include lymphoma, melanoma, and external (skin) cancer. The clinic’s patient brochure includes case histories of patients successfully treated for breast, cervical, prostate, colon, and lung cancers.

In 1965, Margaret Griffin of Pittsburgh was given one year to live by her conventional doctors. She had been having blackouts, and X-rays revealed that she had two tumors around her aorta. Exploratory surgery confirmed the existence of the tumors and also uncovered lesions in the right lung, a blockage of the superior vena cave, and metastases to the lymph glands. Thirty doses of cobalt radiation failed to arrest the growing tumors and made Margaret feel worse. As time went on, her face became puffy, she experienced difficulty breathing, and she felt that she was going steadily downhill.

Margaret decided to fly to Dallas to try the Hoxsey therapy. After visiting the clinic, she took four teaspoons per day of the herbal tonic for several months and followed the prescribed diet. She noticed no improvement, however, and was having serious doubts about the therapy’s value. But after ten months on the regimen, her breathing improved, her strength returned, and she sensed a dramatic overall improvement. When she called her family doctor for a checkup, he refused to see her “because you didn’t believe in my diagnosis.” Subsequent X-rays taken by a different doctor indicated that the two tumors and related conditions were gone.

Margaret continued to take the Hoxsey tonic until 1979, when she went off it for a five-year period. In 1984, she had a build-up of fluid in her right lung. Surgery revealed a recurrence of the tumor blocking the superior vena cave. Margaret went back on her Hoxsey regimen, and her lung problem cleared up. X-rays taken in 1989 showed no sign of cancer, and today, more than twenty-five years after she was given a year at most to live, Margaret is alive, healthy, and active.

“Mildred Nelson is a totally dedicated healer,” says Margaret. “The medical community should pay homage to her. I told Mildred that I wish we could clone her. The world needs her.”

Approximately 80 percent of the patients seen at the Bio-Medical Center benefit substantially from the treatment, according to Nelson. No full-scale independent studies have ever been done to evaluate this claim, however. In an informal tracking survey, Steve Austin, a naturopath from Portland, Oregon, and colleagues followed approximately thirty-five Hoxsey patients. They were able to stay in touch with twenty-two of them either for five years or until death. Austin, who teaches at Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, visited the Bio-Medical Center in 1983 and asked patients walking through the doors if they would be willing to participate in his survey. He then kept in touch with them through annual letters.

Of the twenty-two patients, eleven had died by the end of the five years and eleven were still alive. Among the survivors, three said their condition was deteriorating, but eight claimed to be totally cancerfree. All eight of the cancer-free survivors had previously been diagnosed in the states by medical doctors.

Austin, who plans to publish his findings, emphasizes that his case studies should be considered very preliminary. His sample was small, and it is possible that many of the twenty-two patients were in the very late stages of cancer. Also, a number of the patients may have failed to take their medicine or to stay on the recommended diet.

“The outcome — 8 out of 22 5-year survivors-suggests that the results were better than chance, especially since one of the 8 had late-stage melanoma and another had lung cancer,” says Austin. “I was a skeptic about the Hoxsey program. Initially, it felt pretty hokey to me. But Mildred Nelson told me, ‘Everything is open here. Go out there and talk to any of the patients. They all know somebody who has been cured by the treatment.’ When I mingled with the patients and spoke to them, Mildred’s statement turned out to be true, though our results certainly do not suggest a substantial benefit in 80 percent.”

Mildred Nelson has said that if she cannot find a health professional whom she feels she can entrust to run the clinic and fill her shoes, the Hoxsey therapy may one day die with her. That would be a tragic end to the Hoxsey saga. Meanwhile, cancer patients who are interested in Hoxsey’s methods but cannot afford the trip to Mexico can avail themselves of at least part of the regimen. Three herbal distributors sell products that are apparently identical to the Hoxsey internal tonic formula, or very nearly so. The herbal capsules sold by one of these distributors reportedly requires only supplemental potassium iodide; the other two distributors’ products-one, a blend of herbal tinctures–are said to be virtually identical to the Hoxsey tonic formula.

It should be emphasized that none of these distributors is in any way connected with the Bio-Medical Center, and none claims that its product is useful in treating cancer. The quality of these Hoxsey-like herbal mixtures and the results for people who use them are unknown. Furthermore, taking only the herbal component of the therapy and neglecting the other aspects of the program could weaken the overall effect. If a cancer patient wishes to pursue a Hoxsey-like protocol without a trip to Mexico, it is strongly recommended that he or she do so under the direction of a qualified physician or holistic practitioner. For more information about resources for these herbal products or for practitioner referrals, contact the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education (see page xvi for the address and phone number).


1. Ken Ausubel, “The Troubling Case of Harry Hoxsey,” New Age Journal, July-August 1988, p. 79.

2. Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, vol. 114, 1962, pp. 25-30; and see Walter H. Lewis and Memory P.F. Elvin-Lewis, Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man’s Health (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1977).

3. F.E. Mohs, “Chemosurgery: A Microscopically Controlled Method of Cancer Excision,” Archives of Surgery, vol. 42, 1941, pp. 279295, cited in Patricia Spain Ward, “History of Hoxsey Treatment,” contract report submitted to U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, May 1988, pp. 2-3.

4. Ward, op. cit., p. 8.

5. Kazuyoshi Morita, Tsuneo Kada, and Mitsuo Namiki, “A Desmutagenic Factor Isolated From Burdock (Arctium Lappa Linne),” Mutation Research, vol. 129, 1984, pp. 25-31, cited in Ward, op. cit., p. 7.

6. Harry Hoxsey, You Don’t Have to Die (New York: Milestone Books, 1956), pp. 44-48.

7. Ibid., p. 59.


Bio-Medical Center
P.O. Box 727
615 General Ferreira
Colonia Juarez
Tijuana, Mexico 22000
Phone: 011 52 66-84-9011
01152 66-84-9081
01152 66-849082
01152 66-849376

For further information on Hoxsey therapy and details on treatment.

Reading Material

You Don’t Have to Die, by Harry Hoxsey, Milestone Books (New York), 1956. Out of print; check your local library.

The Cancer Survivors and How They Did It, by Judith Glassman (see Appendix A for description).

“Does Mildred Nelson Have an Herbal Cure for Cancer?- by Peter Barry Chowka, Whole Life Times, January-February 1984.

“The Troubling Case of Harry Hoxsey,” by Ken Ausubel, New Age Journal, July-August 1988.

Other Material

Video: Hoxsey: When Healing Becomes a Crime (originally entitled Hoxsey: Quacks Who Cure Cancer?), 1987. Ninety-six minutes. An excellent, very moving documentary on the Hoxsey therapy, covering its history, the Bio-Medical Center, and the politics and economics of cancer. Produced and directed by Ken Ausubel and coproduced by Catherine Salveson, R.N., it premiered at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York and was shown on cable television. Available from Realidad Productions (P.O. Box 1644, Santa Fe, NM 87504; 505-989-8575).

From Options: The Alternative Cancer Therapy Book by Richard Walters, © 1992. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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Written by Richard Walters

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