Ask for Evidence on “miracle” cancer cures

Sense about Science are highlighting miracle cancer cures as part of their Ask for Evidence campaign.

This post aims to highlight the harm done by “miracle” cures and to suggest what evidence hunters can do to tackle this. It also gives examples of when action has had an effect and the ways those selling such treatments can wriggle out of trouble.

On being diagnosed with cancer, you need to spend just a few minutes online to find a whole host of treatments promoted as safe and natural alternatives to conventional medicine. Some proponents of these even warn patients that treatments advised by their doctors could spread or cause cancer.

There is no shortage of practitioners telling vulnerable people exactly what they want to hear. For those who have been told their condition is terminal, alternative medicine may offer precious hope they thought was lost. Desperately ill patients clinging to false hope can spend their last days on a punishing yet ineffective treatment regime, alienating themselves from doctors and loved ones just when they need them the most. Those with treatable cancers may refuse surgery or give up their medicine and die.

In Australia in 2005, Penelope Dingle died of cancer after being treated by a homeopath, Francine Scrayen. According to the coroner, if Dingle had not spent a year seeking the advice of Mrs Scrayen rather than seeing a doctor, she may have survived. In 2007, in the United States, Kim Tinkham consulted live blood analysis specialist and “alkaline” diet guru, Robert O Young, who said her breast cancer was a result of dietary acids and that no chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery were necessary. Tinkham died of cancer in 2010.

Here in the UK, it is illegal to advertise cancer treatments. Those found doing so should be reported to Trading Standards or Citizens Advice. It may also be worthwhile contacting the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Advertising Standards Authority, and anyone indirectly involved with the ad.

During the World Snooker Championship last year, Peter Ebdon had to remove an advertising logo from his waistcoat following complaints to the BBC, citing the Cancer Act. He had been advertising Gerson Therapy. In April this year, following complaints by customers, Amazon removed listings for several quack cancer treatments including apricot kernels and dried crocodile blood.

Amazon still sell apricot kernels, in addition to several other questionable treatments, such as Essiac tea. They don’t let on that they are for cancer but there is no need to. Patients will find unproven treatments such these favourably reviewed by registered cancer charities. According to Yes to Life, Essiac tea has had many startling reported successes and may be used to treat a wide range of cancers. CANCERactive tell us that Dr Francisco Contreras, of the Oasis of Hope clinic, Mexico, describes B17 as “nature’s chemotherapy”. They go on to explain that apricot kernels (available in their shop) are one of the best natural sources.

Miracle cures may also be discussed at conferences or seminars, though this can lead to problems. In March last year, Trading Standards warned organiser Dr Stephen Hopwood that the Totnes Cancer Conference could be in breach of the Cancer Act. The conference was then moved to a private address and streamed lived online. A subsequent conference went ahead after Hopwood promised that the conference would discuss treating patients with cancer, not for it, despite the fact that speakers at the conference advocate and sell a varied selection of alternative treatments.

One of them, Kevin Wright, has since been jailed for fraud and for stealing money from children’s cancer charities. Dubious products are still available through his website, Bobby’s Healthy Shop, as well as on Amazon.

Some go as far as to start a new religion. The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing promote Miracle Mineral Solution – or bleach – as a treatment for pretty much anything, including cancer. Following a Food Standards Agency warning in 2010, MMS has variously been known as Master Mineral Solution, CDS and Chlorine Dioxide. There was a further FSA warning last year and delegates are now shown how to prepare MMS at seminars held in private addresses. The next one is due to take place in London this weekend.

Of course, I can’t write a post on miracle cancer cures without mentioning Stanislaw Burzynski, who has been using “antineoplastons” to treat cancer patients since the 1970s. Burzynski has never provided reliable evidence that the treatment works but remains in business – despite a collection of lawsuits and action by the US FDA and the Texas Medical Board. Earlier this year, however, the FDA put a partial hold on the “clinical trials” loophole, meaning antineoplastons are no longer available to new patients.

It can sometimes be difficult for patients to recognise that a treatment lacks evidence to support it. While it is virtually impossible to put a stop to “miracle” cancer cures, driving them underground can chip away at their credibility and reduce the harm they can do.

Anyone making claims for cancer treatments that are not supported by evidence must be named, shamed and reported to the appropriate authorities.

There is a short version of this post on the Sense about Science website.

Related articles

Ask for Evidence on miracle cancer cures Sense about Science

Inquest into Dingle death Angie Raphael, Sydney Morning Herald, 30/07/10

A horrifying breast cancer “testimonial” for “holistic” treatment: Robert O. Young responds Orac, Respectful Insolence, 06/12/10

Kim Tinkham, the woman whom Oprah made famous, dead at 53 Bart B. Van Bockstaele, Digital Journal, 08/12/10

Peter Ebdon told to remove cancer treatment logo The Telegraph, 24/04/12

Is it illegal to promote Gerson Therapy at the World Snooker Championship? Josephine Jones, 24/04/12

BBC Snooker Promoting Cancer Quackery Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 24/04/12

Cancer quackery infests snooker Adam Jacobs, Dianthus Medical, 24/04/12

Cancer quackery still available from Amazon Josephine Jones, 17/05/13

A thoroughly dangerous charity: YesToLife promotes nonsense cancer treatments David Colquhoun, DC’s Improbable Science

Bad advice from CANCERactive Josephine Jones, 11/07/12

Totnes Cancer Conference forced underground by Trading Standards Josephine Jones, 23/03/12

Kevin Wright and the Cancer Charities that Harm Children. Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 06/09/13

The man who encourages the sick and dying to drink industrial bleach Martin Robbins, The Guardian, 15/09/10

Bleach-based cure-all online remedies could kill, warns government Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, 04/07/12

Burzynski: the false promise of antineoplastons Josephine Jones, 13/05/13

11 responses to “Ask for Evidence on “miracle” cancer cures

  1. Pingback: Ask for Evidence – Miracle Cures | Purely a figment of your imagination

  2. What about the claims of Dr. Beljanski? It seems that there are hundreds of scientific articles around his Pao Perier (sp) tree from South America. Have you researched their claims, as I would love to know what you think.

    • I’ve visited the company website linked from your profile and get the strong impression that he was a quack and you’re a spambot.

      The website is full of misleading and unsubstantiated claims. Since there are some rather bold medicinal claims, I think the products could even be considered to be (unlicensed, of course) medicines. Some parts of the site (the bit about preventing the uncontrolled replication and expression of destabilized DNA and the section on prostate health) come very close to breaching the Cancer Act, and would therefore possibly be illegal in the UK.

      And here’s the classic quack disclaimer:

      The Beljanski® Products are not pharmaceuticals products and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you are a person with known or presumed medical conditions, we recommend consulting your doctor, or other practitioner for medical advice.

  3. Cancer Survivor

    Hi Josephine – I am indeed not a spammer – I am a real person – I promise. It really is hard to do good internet research – and as you know, cancer survivors are always online looking for the next best cure. The disclaimer that you are calling the classic quack disclaimer is something that I see on all supplement companies – I thought that was an FDA requirement? I asked because I also read the book Cancer’s Cause Cancer’s Cure which talks in depth about Mirko Beljanski. I also found a bunch of research on their foundation website here http://beljanski.com/engl/ . You have to understand that when one is desperate, we look at all forms of help. Can you be more specific in what you disagree with so I can make a better informed decision?

    • Do you work for Beljanski? If not, why did you enter their website as your website when you made your last comment?

      I am based in the UK, where I believe the website would be deemed misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority. The disclaimer is meaningless because it contradicts the claims made elsewhere on the website. I object to these claims because they are misleading and unsubstantiated. If you think I’m wrong here, please feel free to provide robust evidence of those claims.

      In saying it’s an FDA requirement, are you suggesting that the claims are all true but everyone has to have such a disclaimer? I haven’t come across such a requirement before. Please feel free to enlighten me. Or is it simply a convenient loophole allowing the site to continue to mislead the public?

      I do understand when someone is desperate, they may look at all forms of help. This is one reason why cancer quackery can be so pervasive and is able to do such harm.

      • Cancer Survivor

        Hi there – I had a hysterectomy several years ago that had bad cells as well as a colon polyp that was bad. Because of this I am hyper aware of cancer and anything I can do to make it go away because it seems that my body wants to keep producing it. I wanted to know why. The FDA in the US requirement certainly does not give everyone a blanket approval that what they say are true. I saw a movie from Jeff Hayes that talked about Chiropractors – here is one that he is doing about big pharma in the US http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bought-the-movie. This is the fundraising website, but the trailer for the movie is pretty awesome. Any natural product is having to fight the FDA and cannot say anything about what it really does. Now that I have explained myself a bit more, I am curious why you are so intense with your words about quackery. What happened to you that made you so strong in your opinions? Did you or someone you know have a bad experience with something medical/or a supposed cure? Are you a member or the owner of the Sense about Science website that you refer to on your blog? I would like to know more.

      • Claims need to be supported by evidence, whether they are for a natural or a synthetic product. It makes no difference.

        I don’t like to see people being misled, especially the vulnerable and the innocent. If someone is making unfounded claims for unproven or disproven treatments then I feel compelled to speak out and to do so clearly and unequivocally.

        I’m a supporter of Sense about Science, which is why I wrote the article above and why I display their Ask for Evidence button on my blog. I don’t work for them or own them, no. If you want to know more about Sense about Science, I suggest you look at their website.

        By the way, you never did tell me why you entered the Beljanski website as your own website when you commented, nor did you clarify whether or not you work for them?

      • Cancer Survivor

        I entered the website because it said when I logged my comment to enter a website.🙂

      • Thanks for clearing that up. Makes perfect sense.

  4. I must point out that the movie Bought and its fundraising campaign are being endorsed and promoted by lunatic Mike Adams at Natural News. The movie features former doctor, the discredited Andy Wakefield among others, and is virulently anti-vaccination and anti-GMO. Probably not the best example to use to try to convince us that it’s a credible source.

    Oh, and the director Jeff Hays (note the correct spelling for Google searches) is a paranoid conspiracy crackpot who has also made a 9/11 “truther” propaganda film.

  5. Cancer Survivor,

    Firstly, and most importantly, I hope you are in good health and stay that way.

    This is a blog that is devoted to exposing, fighting, criticizing, stopping and educating readers on all manner of deceptive and fradulent health claims, including “cancer cures.” There is no premise of “equal balance” and none is owed. By its nature, the blog is biased against fraud.

    It seems every day someone comes along with a new “discovery” or “breakthrough” that gets hyped online via YouTube videos and commercial websites. The aim, of course, is to sell such products and they all look nice and “sciencey.” Yes, some of those products do claim to have some research to back them up and some of the inventors are actually real doctors or scientists with credentials.

    What Josephine does (if I may put words in her mouth?) and all the other science bloggers do, is peel back the veneer that these products exhibit and take a good, hard, critical look at the proof (if any) and examine the claims made for these products by their marketers. In most cases, these products are too good to be true or else they wouldn’t be sold via YouTube or commercial websites. Testimonials are meaningless.

    There are no conspiracies to suppress any real, promising, proven treatments. If there is evidence that some product or treatment shows promise, mainstream science would jump all over it in a heartbeat, especially in countries like mine with socialized medicine that are overun with ever-increasing health-care costs and long, long waits at hospitals for conventional treatment. If baking soda, or herbs, or magic magnets were proven to work and were readily available and cheap, word would spread far and wide, very quickly.

    Once again I wish you continued good health.

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