Cancer patients often turn to the Internet as a source of information and hope. But all too often, those hopes are betrayed by purveyors of so-called cancer "cures" that are anything but, experts say.
Earlier this month, five companies were charged with making false and misleading claims for cancer cures, and settlements were reached with six other companies, the US Federal Trade Commission announced. Products marketed by the companies included essiac teas and other herbal mixtures, laetrile, black salve (a corrosive ointment), and mushroom extracts.
"There is no credible scientific evidence that any of the products marketed by these companies can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, the Associated Press reported.
In June, the US Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to two dozen companies peddling everything from cure-all teas to tablets and tonics. And earlier this year, more than 100 manufacturers of such products were issued similar letters.
Black salves particularly dangerous
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, black salves are one of the most dangerous of these fake cures. The products, which supposedly "draw out" the disease from under the skin, can actually burn the skin and cause scarring.
Which is not to say that none of these compounds has potential as cancer fighters. But consumers need to be careful.
"Many of these compounds touted as having beneficial effects have lots of lab research, but it's more selling hope in a jar based on preliminary lab research," said Sarah Wally, a nutritionist with the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, DC. "That's not fair to the consumer, particularly consumers with cancer who have a really strong motivation to try anything that might offer hope."
Many of these so-called cures or preventive treatments won't actually cause harm (except to your wallet), but some can interact with regular, supervised medical treatment, Wally said.
"Antioxidants can actually interfere with chemotherapy and radiation treatment," she said. "Some people think, 'I'm just drinking juice.' But they might be drinking two gallons of juice a day of super-antioxidant juice compound, not thinking to discuss it with their doctor."
And, some consumers may actually forego lifesaving conventional treatments in favour of shams.
Here's some advice from the experts: