Bogus cures on internet risk thousands of patients' lives

The lives of thousands of cancer patients are at risk due to internet websites promoting bogus cures which can cause more harm than good, new research warned yesterday.

As a growing number of Britons embrace complementary therapies, it emerged that the internet was replete with incorrect advice that could potentially hasten the deaths of cancer sufferers.

From powdered shark fin to a cyanide compound found in apricot kernels, a flood of "miracle cures" were available on the internet which were not clinically proven. A "significant" number of websites also advocated giving up conventional treatment such as chemotherapy in favour of the alternative.

Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University, who co-led the study, urged greater education in highlighting the potentially fatal dangers of bogus internet cures. "This was to us quite an eye-opener and pretty scary stuff," said Professor Ernst, the first and only professor of complementary medicine in the country.

"Our conclusion was that a significant proportion of these websites are actually a risk to cancer patients. Not everything that is natural is risk-free. People should use their common sense and think twice about the motives of these websites."

The study examined 32 of the most popular cancer treatment websites, each of which received tens of thousands of visits every day from around the world, and analysed their claims. It found that not one of the multitude of treatments or medications advocated could be proven to cure or prevent the onset of cancer.

Three sites, based in the UK, the US and Cyprus, were found to offer advice that was potentially harmful to cancer sufferers. A further 16 per cent of sites actively discouraged patients from continuing with conventional treatment as opposed to complementary therapies, according to the research, published in the medical journal Annals of Oncology.

"We found that between these 30-odd sites, 118 different cancer 'cures' were recommended," said Professor Ernst. "None of these can be demonstrated to cure cancer. A significant proportion recommends not using conventional treatments, which implies a significant risk to patients."

Cancer societies warned patients against depending on internet information. Dr Julie Sharp, of Cancer Research UK, said: "There is a confusing amount of information about cancer treatment and 'alternative' cures available on the internet. Many of these have no clinical or scientific basis and so it is vitally important that patients seek advice from their doctors before embarking on any alternative therapy."

Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, added: "Too little is known about either the helpful or harmful effects, particularly those associated with herbal medicines."

COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE TAKES ON CANCER

LAERTRILE

Found in the kernels of apricots, cherries, peaches and almonds, laertrile contains a toxic cyanide compound and was first linked with cancer cures in the 1970s. After heavy marketing in the US studies revealed it could be harmful. Since the rise of the internet, it has resurfaced and, although banned in the UK, tablets can be purchased from Mexican websites.

SHARK CARTILAGE

A book published in America entitled "Sharks Do Not Get Cancer" led to interest in shark-related medicines. The erroneous claim has prompted a thriving market in products such as powdered shark fins, as well as liquid capsules. Cancer Research UK warns: "There is no evidence that it is any help at all in treating cancer."

GERSON THERAPY

Max Gerson set about finding cures through diets that would clean the body of toxins including including coffee enemas, vitamin injections and carrot juice diets. Today it is hailed as the ultimate "cancer cure" on numerous websites. Experts warn it can inflict more harm than good as it starves the patient of vital nutrients.

Comments