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  • Health & Medicine

Tackling the quacks

by Kat Arney | Analysis

22 September 2008

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Cancer can kill. It claims more than 150,000 lives every year in the UK alone. Thanks to research, improved detection and better treatments mean that survival rates are climbing year on year.

But while scientists make progress in understanding the causes of cancer at a molecular level, and trying to find new ways to beat it, the unscrupulous are preying on vulnerable, and often desperate, people.

Tackling false claims

There are people (and websites) around the world that peddle untested, ineffective – and in some cases unsafe – alternative remedies that claim to cure cancer. Now, we’re not saying all complementary and alternative therapies are bad – in fact, there’s some very good advice for anyone interested on our patient information website, CancerHelp UK.

But we also wanted to share an interesting case that’s currently going on in the States. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have clamped down on people selling products that claim to cure cancer.

The ruling

According to ABC News, one website had posted the standard disclaimer “The FTC and FDA require us to place this disclaimer here, please read. Herbs for cancer are not intended to cure, treat, or diagnose your illness.” However, the FDA argue “However, untrue or misleading information in one part of your site will not be mitigated by inclusion of such a ‘disclaimer.’”

Part of the ruling includes a clause requiring the company to send a letter to all the people who have bought its products, including lines such as “Very little scientific research has been done concerning the above noted products as a treatments or cures for cancer in humans. The scientific studies that have been done do not demonstrate that these products, or the ingredients in these products, are effective when used as treatments for cancer.” The full ruling is here.

Our view

Cancer Research UK does not argue that all complementary therapies are without benefit for people with cancer – but we certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone stops medical treatment in favour of an alternative therapy. We – and other researchers around the world – are also looking into many naturally-derived chemicals for their potential to treat or prevent cancer.

What we are against is the exploitative selling of untested and ineffective “remedies” to desperate people, which may do them more harm than good.


N.B. Just to draw the distinction, we class complementary therapies as those that are used alongside conventional medicine. They do not make any claims to cure disease, but may help people to feel better and cope with their cancer and treatment. An alternative therapy is one that is used instead of conventional medical treatment.