Health: `Ah yes, cancer. Just click here for a cure'

You've found a lump. Do you wait for ever to see your GP - or do you surf the Internet? Your life is in your hands.

Want an instant cure for your illness? Cancer, Aids, even death itself? Look no further than the Internet. The exponential growth of "cybermedicine" (that is, medicine on the Internet) means that you can have access to the same databases as your GP, at a click of a mouse. There's only one problem - no one will be checking whether what's on offer is healing or humbug.

The whole point of the Internet is that anyone can use it. And anyone does. According to an article in this week's British Medical Journal, "Shopping Around the Internet Today and Tomorrow: Towards the Millennium of Cybermedicine", more than 100,000 medical websites exist "and their number is growing rapidly". The article quoted a survey indicating that 27 per cent of female Internet users and 15 per cent of male users access health information at least once a week.

The sublime, the criminal and the insane - it's all there on the Net. And according to the article in the BMJ, by Gunther Eysenbach, Eun Ryoung Sa and Thomas L Diepgen, the information and advice is extremely variable, "ranging from the useful to the dangerous".

Take this example, from a website advertising something called "Rife therapy". This involves directing electrical frequency beams at the body from a Rife machine, which costs about pounds 1,200. Its beams are supposed to be toxic to bacteria and viruses, including HIV. There is only one problem. It doesn't work - you might as well stand in front of your toaster. But is it harmless? The website states: "If the person is taking AZT (a key drug used to suppress the virus that causes Aids), they may have to decide whether to take drugs or take frequency sessions, as AZT will complicate and confuse the apparent results."

Dr Ali Zumla, an Aids expert at University College Hospital in London, says: "Suggesting that people who are taking anti-viral treatment for HIV should discontinue their medication is totally irresponsible and encourages drug resistance. Many of our patients take alternative treatments, but the point is that these are complementary rather than a substitute for conventional medicine. Treatments have to be properly assessed in clinical trials before you can make claims of a cure and then charge people for them."

You might think that such websites were rare. However, a search of the Net using the term "ozone enema" led to 383 separate pages. Ozone therapy is based on the incorrect assumption that cancer is caused by insufficient oxygen. It seeks to correct this by exposing cells to ozone - modified oxygen - at the site of disease. "This is nonsense. The correct treatment for colonic cancer is surgery, with or without chemotherapy and radiotherapy," says Dr Carmel Coulter, a cancer specialist at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London.

The Trepan Brain Clinic Webpage suggests some astonishing variations on the ancient practice of trephination (drilling a hole in a healthy skull to relieve pressure). They offer a made-to-measure service where you can have "as much or as little brain modification to best suit your lifestyle - from simple trephination, to lobotomy, to complete decephalisation". You won't even have to have your head shaved. They can use small tools inserted through a hole in your ear. It's your happiness, they say. Only your brain can stand in your way.

For $49.95 (pounds 31) a product called Cansema guarantees 100 per cent success in the removal of skin cancers, even melanomas - regardless of type or size. The makers say that it can discriminate between healthy and cancerous tissue and can therefore both diagnose and treat. That is simply not scientifically possible. Cansema is a so-called "escharotic", which poisons and kills any skin it touches, cancerous or otherwise. There are documented cases of patients losing large areas of their skin and face, including the whole nose, after using escharotics, and needing years of plastic surgery to correct the damage.

Many sites are just eccentric rather than truly dangerous or exploitative. Try the Urine Therapy homepage. Here, a self-styled health consultant and urine therapist, Coen van der Kroon, tells you more than you probably want to know about what you can do with your own waste products, including gargling, inhaling it and bathing in it.

Maya the dolphin is webmaster of a site where they want to sell you a book of health tips in case you are abducted by aliens. Elsewhere you can buy a five-gallon polyurethane gravity tank for your home enemas and a smaller one for your dog and cat. Should all else fail there are numerous sites offering cryonics - the so-called science of having your corpse frozen until doctors come up with a cure for fatal illness.

Dubious cancer treatments that were briefly fashionable are popping up afresh on the Web. Essiac, Laetrile, Entelev, powdered shark cartilage, Hoxsey Treatment, Greek Cancer Cure... the list is endless. All have either been tested and found wanting by conventional science, or been thought too improbable to deserve investigation. All have numerous Internet sites making wild and unproven claims that they can cure cancer or other illnesses (for money). Many contain the querulous accusation that the conventional medical profession is trying to suppress them.

"People should remember that doctors are very enthusiastic to cure patients," says Dr Coulter. "If any of these treatments really worked we would prescribe them. We are in the process of setting up a website of our own, with information sheets for all the major cancer treatments." The General Medical Council regulates medical practice in Britain. Its spokesman says: "If these treatments are not offered by registered medical practitioners in the UK then we have no jurisdiction. The regional director of public health may have some local responsibility, but, of course, the Internet is difficult to regulate."

Dr Paul Cundy, chairman of the Information Management and Technology Sub-Committee of the General Practitioners' Committee, says: "The reality of the Internet is that it is free for anyone to use, and it is therefore impossible to police."

According to Linda Cuthbertson, of the Royal College of Physicians: "Increasingly, patients are coming to their doctors with computer print-outs advertising alternative treatments. Doctors just don't have the time to sit down with patients to sift the good from the bad." She adds: "There are of course many legitimate medical websites, such as the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's"

In the end you have to make up your own mind whether to trust any health practitioner, whether in the surgery or on the Web. Before you sign up for any treatment, though, it may be worth checking it out first. The organisation called Quackwatch may be a good place to start.

SO, WHICH WEBSITES CAN YOU TRUST?

Dr Paul Cundy, a Wimbledon GP, suggests that you should:

l Never rely on just one site

l Check that information is verified in a scientific journal, where authors are identified and their credentials and sources listed

l Look for evidence that the site is regularly updated

l Watch out for advertising or links to commercial organisations, which could indicate a conflict of interest

l Avoid online consultations, which are potentially dangerous

l Be sceptical of any miracle cures

l Look for evidence of an editorial board, rather than sites devised by single issue mavericks

Reputable websites include:

Quackwatch - this site offers critiques of alternative therapies:

http://www.quackwatch.com

Imperial Cancer Research Fund's site, containing news, fact sheets, contacts and links:

http://www.icnet.uk/

Cancer Research Campaign's site, which offers advice on preventative

measures and treatments:

http://www.crc.org.uk/

Medline Plus, devised by the National Library of Medicine in the United States:

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/

Sites to browse through in your lunchtime (but only if there's nothing wrong with you):

Interested in trepanning?

http://www.noah.org/trepan/trepan_clinic/

Need health tips, in case you're

abducted by aliens?

http://www.spiritWeb.org/Spirit/swimming-to-stars-royal.html

Thinking of getting your body frozen after you're dead? Then you could sign up here:

http://www.Webcom.com/ cryocare/ci/ci.html

Research: Eva Johansson

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?