Fake Cancer Cures: Helping Patients Recognize Warning Signs


The Internet is abundant with ads for cancer cures that seem too good to be true. How should patients and consumers navigate this overflow of information?

Angela Stark

Angela Stark

Angela Stark

The political sector is not the only realm affected by fake news stories circulating on the Internet. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a list of 187 phony cancer “cures” that consumers should avoid. Products ranged from herbal extracts and teas to pills and so-called cancer-fighting creams.

There are three ways in which the FDA regulates health claims on consumer products. The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) allows the FDA to issue regulations authorizing health claims for foods and dietary supplements after reviewing evidence. The 1997 Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act gives 120 days for a company to be backed by an authoritative statement by the National Academy of Sciences or a reputable scientific body in the U.S. Finally, as per the Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements, the FDA can review petitions for qualified health claims where the strength of the claim does not meet the FDA’s standards.

But for patients and consumers who are navigating this murky field on their own, Angela Stark, a spokesperson for the FDA, has some simple advice: “Know the warning signs — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

One red flag is when products claim to treat — or even cure – any type of cancer. Stark reports that the FDA has seen products that market themselves on being able to cure a plethora of different tumor types. Another warning sign is when products claim to be more effective than treatments that are already FDA-approved or are promoted as alternatives to standard chemotherapy or surgery, Stark said in an interview with CURE.

The widespread use of the Internet — including social media platforms, where large audiences can be reached almost instantly – has generated a whole new marketplace for these phony remedies. Since issuing nearly two dozen warning letters to companies in 2008, the FDA has come across numerous other companies claiming that their product is a “miracle cure,” “new discovery” or “scientific breakthrough.” These companies then received further warning and advisory letters.

Among the companies that recently received warning letters were Cancerherbtea.com, Dose of Nature and Green Supreme Inc.

In the case of some companies, the FDA even has permanent injunctions against the firms that market these products online. Those firms market products which include: the Q Laser device, Iowa Select Herbs and Bioanue Laboratories.

And while the FDA has strict rules against companies claiming that their products cure, mitigate, treat, or affect the diagnosis of cancer (or any other disease), foods and dietary substances may be marketed with statements about vetted disease risk-reduction. These statements must be scientifically backed and reviewed by the FDA prior to being printed on labels.

“An example of an authorized health claim is ‘diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease,’” Stark said.

Besides the bogus claims on their labels, some companies may also promote to have “real people” or “real doctors” who swear by their product, when the people are really just actors. This is another warning sign Stark mentions consumers need to look out for.

“No one product can treat or cure many different diseases,” she says. “Consumers should talk with a health care professional they trust before using products to treat cancer.”

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