Cancer quackery still available from Amazon

Amazon.co.uk recently came under fire for selling illegal quack products claimed to cure or treat cancer. These included apricot kernels, dried crocodile blood, a “blood purifier” to help destroy tumours and a homeopathic product said to target genes to arrest tumour growth.

The issue was originally blogged on 21st Floor and by me, here. It was subsequently reported in the Times, the Daily Mail and the Mirror. Professor David Colquhoun described the health claims as “grotesque”, noting the danger that people will believe the hucksters and thereby deny themselves effective treatment.

Those products have now been removed from the site but Amazon seem to have done nothing to tackle the overall problem.

The following are all currently listed on Amazon.co.uk:

  • Kigelia Africana cream from the African Sausage Tree, for skin cancer. It is claimed that Kigelia has an “astonishing effect on melanomas and sun damaged skin” and that the progress of skin cancer (in early or advanced stages) can be halted.
  • Apricot kernels, said to be rich in vitamin B17 (amygdalin / laetrile). This is a notorious quack cancer cure.
  • Reishi Mushroom powder. It is claimed that studies have shown this to possess “possibly even anti-tumor properties.” This particular listing is “fulfilled by Amazon”, meaning the product would come from an Amazon warehouse and delivery would be free.
  • Reishi + acerola, marketed as “anti-tumor” (alongside many other unsupported claims).
  • Antrodia Camphorata, which is apparently “being researched for its benefits in support the systems of sufferers of many types of cancer”. It is claimed to be commonly used as an anti-cancer drug and useful in the treatment of various diseases including diabetes, hepatitis  “and many types of cancers including liver, lung, cervical, colon, and breast cancers and also leukemia and adenoma.”
  • Prostamax Plus, aimed at men having problems with urination and erectile dysfunction. It was also claimed: “This same miracle could protect you from getting prostate cancer and may well help you overcome prostate cancer without having to undergo the use of dangerous drugs, debilitating and dangerous surgery, harmful radiation, and catastrophic microwave damage to your tissues.”
  • Prostate Miracle, “an excellent pre-emptive measure to prevent prostate cancer from developing”. It is also claimed that this product may help prevent and slow the growth of prostate cancer, and that numerous studies have shown that selenium is of tremendous benefit in preventing and treating prostate cancer.
  • Turkey Tail, said to contain PSK and PSP, “which have been clinically proven to be of potent benefit in a variety of cancers, including Gastric, Oesophageal, Lung, Breast and Colorectal”. Also claimed to cure ringworm, impetigo and liver disorders including hepatitis, to reduce toxic effects and pain of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and prolong the life of cancer patients.
  • Doctor’s Best Best Artemisinin. According to the Product Description, studies show that artemisinin is effective against a wide variety of cancers, including leukemia and colon cancer, and “interemediate activities were also shown against melanoma, breast, ovarian, prostate, CNS and renal cancer.”

I could continue.

Such listings encourage customers to self diagnose and self medicate, dissuading them from seeking advice from their doctor. The products are not licensed medicines. As far as I can tell, they are completely unregulated. They have not been proven to be effective, nor have they been proven to be safe. We can’t even be sure what is in them. Taking any of these instead of real medicine could be fatal.

Selling and advertising any unlicensed medicine is illegal. Advertising cancer treatments would be a breach of the Cancer Act.

Amazon may be contacted here, on 0800 496 1081 (or +44 207 084 7911) or on Twitter @AmazonUK. I emailed them on 15th March but have had no meaningful reply.

Breaches of the Cancer Act should be reported to Trading Standards, who are also responsible for enforcing Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. Details of your local office may be found here.

Contact details for the MHRA are here. The email address for Head Office is info@mhra.gsi.gov.uk. Enquiries regarding enforcement should go to casereferrals@mhra.gsi.gov.uk. To ask if a product is a medicine or not, you should email Medicines.Borderline.advice@mhra.gsi.gov.uk

Information on complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority is here.

Related articles

Amazon UK seller breaches Cancer act (1939) Keir Liddle, The Twenty-First Floor, 02/03/13 (also available here)

Cancer quackery on sale at Amazon.co.uk Josephine Jones, 10/03/13

Amazon attacked for ‘selling illegal cancer remedies on behalf of hucksters’ Kat Lay, The Times, 01/04/13

Amazon removes ‘cures for cancer’ listings including crocodile blood and apricot kernels Andrew Gregory, Mirror, 01/04/13

Amazon under fire for selling illegal products that ‘claim to cure or treat cancer’ Helen Lawson, Mailonline, 01/04/13

16 responses to “Cancer quackery still available from Amazon

  1. Funnily enough I got an email from the MHRA yesterday about this, they’re looking into it…

  2. I wrote to Amazon again on 18th May:

    I wrote on 15th March expressing concern at some of the health products on Amazon.co.uk, sold by third parties and in some cases fulfilled by Amazon. These are not licensed medicines but were presented with a view to treat or cure disease. Some are even sold with a view to treat or cure cancer.

    As I pointed out, these products aren’t licensed medicines, are not regulated and we don’t know if they are safe or effective. These could be harmful or dangerous to vulnerable people. It is illegal to sell or advertise unlicensed medicines. Advertising cancer treatments is also illegal under the Cancer Act (1939).

    I believe others also got in touch, including journalists, and that the listings in question were removed.

    However, simply removing those particular listings does not solve the problem. There are still various unlicensed products sold alongside medicinal claims, including claims to treat cancer. Some examples of these are given here: https://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/cancer-quackery-still-available-from-amazon/.

    I have still not received a reply to my original email. I would be grateful if you could let me know what action will be taken, as I intend to contact the MHRA and Trading Standards if the problem persists.

    I have just had the same reply I got last time:

    We’ve forwarded this to the correct team internally. Thank you for your feedback.

    I have also noticed that the majority of the listings mentioned in this post have now been taken down. I don’t know if this is as a direct result of this post, my email, my tweets, or if anyone else has been in touch with Amazon (I have seen the odd tweet since publishing this post, but don’t know of any other complaints).

    There are still other listings not mentioned above containing cancer claims (eg http://www.amazon.co.uk/Indigo-Herbs-of-Glastonbury-Tincture/dp/B00AWQXL30/ref=sr_1_2?s=drugstore&ie=UTF8&qid=1369056604&sr=1-2&keywords=pau+d%27arco+indigo+herbs and http://www.amazon.co.uk/OVOSAN-500mg-capsules-2×90-caps/dp/B00BZ9Q5J0/ref=sr_1_1?s=drugstore&ie=UTF8&qid=1369056637&sr=1-1&keywords=tumour) and lots and lots of listings for what appear to be unlicensed medicines. Simply removing them one by one isn’t going to solve the problem.

  3. Pingback: Amazon rebuked by ASA for promoting measles | Josephine Jones

  4. The statement that they have stopped selling aprikot kernels (and related products) from their website (The Mirror article) simply isn’t true: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dhpc&field-keywords=B17

    I wish skeptic websites who recommend books etc. would link to other online bookstores than Amazon. Don’t know any who doesn’t sell quackery promoting books too though, but we have to start somewhere.

  5. Pingback: Ask for Evidence on “miracle” cancer cures | Josephine Jones

  6. I HAVE HAD BPH FOR YEARS-MY DR IS NOT INTERESTED IN THE FACT THAT IT IS ENLARGED-SO MUCH FOR THE NHS-.
    I HAD TO PAY FOR AN MRI AS I AM 76..THIS AGEIST UK HEALTH SERVICE IS NOT INTERESTED-IT SHOWED UP-I SENT REPORT TO DR MEBRAHTU IN GOSPORT AS I WAS NOW HAVING BURNING PAIN-NO REPLY IN THREE WEEKS.
    SO I RESEARCHED SAW PALMETTO-PUMPKIN SEED-
    PYGEUM-
    ASPARAGUS-
    OBTAINED THESE-IMMEDIATE RELIEF-STRONG URINE FLOW-BURNING GONE-
    QUACKERY?
    NO! GOOD OLD FASHIONED NATURAL CURES WHICH I SHALL NOW GET TOGETHER IN PROSTAMAX-AND I DONT WORK FOR THEM! WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
    NHS NOT CARING LESS.

  7. I don’t know why you want these products removed, quakery or not surely people have the right to make up their own minds whether to buy or not, you are basically saying people should not have freedom of choice , I think what is disgusting is that you don’t take into consideration that people turn to these alternatives as a last ditch attempt their last hope where conventional medicine has failed, you or no law has any right to take that away from people. You insinuate that the general public is dumb and I don’t think that is the right attitude to adopt,

    • The general public is diverse and I’m certainly not suggesting everyone is dumb. However, I do think people are being misled. I also think it’s reasonable to expect that Amazon would not wish to break the law by selling and advertising unlicensed cancer treatments, especially after having been contacted by The Times and the MHRA.

  8. @zakia – no, people should have a choice…a choice based on effective and proven therapies (that have been proven safe, etc.), not a choice based on misinformation and peddled by those who only want to make a buck off of a dying individual….

  9. Reblogged this on Nil Oleum Serpentum and commented:
    One year on and you can still buy purified B17/Amygdalin (extracted from bitter almonds/apricot kernels) from Amazon. B17/Amygdalin/Laetrile is a prescription only medicine in the UK. I have reported the relevant breaches to the MHRA – see my blog post http://niloleumserpentum.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/b17-amygdalin-laetrile-rears-its-ugly-head-again/

  10. Wow! it pears that the new generation is unable to make personal decissions for themselves. Does this mean that the intelligence has somehow been removed, and that they are incapable to make decisions for themselves? When I was young we had no NHS. had to pay for dr’s. Therefore we had to find alternative remedies for ourselves. (Not purified) pills or ills only common sense which most of the population had. Nowadays education has been a blessing and we are able to make more educational choices for ourselves. Why destroy independence???

    • @Esma – god forbid we should hold medical treatments to the standard that they be proven to work and be effective……I mean, if you want to travel to Tijuana & get un-licensed stem cell treatments, go right ahead….

    • herr doktor bimler

      When I was young we had no NHS. had to pay for dr’s.

      If you were paying for doctor visits before the NHS, you are, what, 95?

  11. How have conventional treatments been proven either safe or effective? Current conventional cancer treatments certainly are not very effective. Look at the statistics. And safe? Go and read the data about the safety of radiation and most of chemotherapeutic substances. Sorry, but they are not safe.

  12. @JB – well, several cancers have been essentially cured & the life-expectancy of most others have increased dramatically over the past several decades….I’d say that’s an improvement.

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