No matter where you look on social media, there are millions of sites claiming that ‘this’ and ‘that’ can cure cancer. If you analyse some of the things that can apparently ‘cure’ cancer, you will normally find that behind these fantasies, there is someone selling something, a book, a video, a product.
I was also interested to read a number of articles about various aspects of this modern phenomenon. Firstly, in the magazine Wired, a major media company was forced to take down some cancer therapy videos after someone pointed out they were not scientifically factual. Not just patients who get fooled by these claims then?
Much of the misinformation arrives via Facebook, and YouTube, two of the most commonly used social media tools. This article suggests a shockingly large majority of health news shared on Facebook and YouTube is fake or misleading, according to a recent report. This is where bogus treatments have thrived according to the same article. The article also suggests that some of this fake and misleading news makes it to newspapers indicating that editors and health writers are not as robust at fact checking as the readers might expect.
Also worrying is the data from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) which found that 40% of Americans believe alternative treatment can cure cancer (the number was found to be even higher in younger people).
Clearly if that were true, they wouldn’t be alternative treatments, they would be conventional, and we’d all be getting them. Well done ASCO for raising this issue, but let’s not beat up Americans, I very much suspect if other national organisations did similar surveys, they might produce similar results. This astonishing statistic just illustrates the power of social media and the internet in general for spreading this misinformation.
In the UK, the Telegraph ran a story of what can happen if you forego conventional treatment and try alternative instead. This is one example but there are clearly many more and ASCO touched on this above.
“Britton-Jordan was an intelligent woman with a long-standing interest in alternative therapies, who made a decision based on her beliefs. But doctors are becoming increasingly concerned at the targeting of vulnerable cancer patients by charlatans peddling well-meaning but useless therapies– a problem that is gathering pace thanks to the use of social media and drawing parallels with the newly emboldened anti-vaccination movement“.
It’s worrying that people are taken in by such drivel, but we mustn’t forget that people with cancer can often be in a distressed and anxious state and may look to other sources of therapy if they felt the conventional treatment was not working, not available in their healthcare system, or not within their budget/insurance cover (in insurance-based health systems). Of course, this is not helped by the well-intentioned friends and family who get carried away by what they read on the internet and pass it on to their loved ones. Ellie McDowell gives good advice on this card.
In addition to my blog site, I also run a large patient closed group on Facebook and several public pages in support. I can tell you now, I will not allow this sort of fake news and peddling of ‘snake oil’ on any of my sites. My sites are targeted weekly by those who wish to sell their wares, many of them are the sort of thing mentioned in a number of the articles above. They are quickly blocked.
Here’s how to look out for fake healthcare news and products.
Some of the tactics they use (plus a commentary from the US FDA):
One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. A New York firm claimed its products marketed as dietary supplements could treat or cure senile dementia, brain atrophy, atherosclerosis, kidney dysfunction, gangrene, depression, osteoarthritis, dysuria, and lung, cervical and prostate cancer. In October 2012, at FDA’s request, U.S. marshals seized these products.
Personal testimonials. Success stories, such as, “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone,” are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as, “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”
“All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Moreover, FDA has found numerous products promoted as “all natural” but that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients or even untested active artificial ingredients.
“Miracle cure.” Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, “new discovery,” “scientific breakthrough” or “secret ingredient.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
Conspiracy theories. Claims like “The pharmaceutical industry and the government are working together to hide information about a miracle cure” are always untrue and unfounded. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.
Read more on this issue in an article published by Jack Barrette, CEO and Founder of WEGO Health – “Fake News in Healthcare Can Be Quite Dangerous in Facebook’s Health Communities“. Jack also wrote about how Facebook health communities can protect themselves from these dangers –“For Health Communities, Facebook is Too Important to Delete”.
And also check out this great article from a major UK news outlet – How to survive fake news – click here
I’ve written extensively about these issues before, please check out my other articles on this important subject here:
The Trouble with the ‘NET’ – Cancer Myths – click here
Alternative Therapy risks – click here
Miracle Cures – click here
Hope is great, false hope is not.
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