A recent news story about trafficking in rhino horns brought to mind the wide reach of bogus cancer claims.
This may sound farfetched, but let me explain: The quest for rhino horns is destroying rhino populations because of a myth that powder from their horns can cure cancer, among other things. With a horn costing as much as $300,000, this is not your everyday fake cancer cure.
But bogus cures in smaller shapes and sizes abound. They are nothing new, but the Internet has enabled purveyors to reach wider audiences, taking advantage of patients when they are most vulnerable.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "Scammers take advantage of the feelings that can accompany a diagnosis of cancer. They promote unproven — and potentially dangerous — remedies like black salve, essiac tea [a mixture of herbs], or laetrile with claims that the products are both 'natural' and effective. But 'natural' doesn’t mean either safe or effective when it comes to using these treatments for cancer. In fact, a product that is labeled natural can be more than ineffective: It can be downright harmful."
Laetrile is a chemically modified form of amygdalin, a naturally occurring substance found mainly in the kernels of apricots, peaches, and almonds.
Companies and individuals have also hawked products made with ingredients such as bloodroot, Cat's Claw, and shark cartilage, touting them as cures for everything from melanoma to bladder cancer.
The Federal Drug Administration lists 125 "crackpot cures" on its Website, warning consumers to avoid tablets, creams, teas, black salves, and tonics known to be scams.
It's important to talk to your doctor about any products you want to try.
You can also spot fraudulent "remedies" by using these guidelines supplied by the FDA and the FTC:
- The ad says it will cure any type of cancer. No single treatment will work for everyone or for every type of cancer.
- The ad uses "personal testimonies" that claim the product works. These people may be paid actors, but even if they aren't, personal stories are unreliable and unscientific evidence of the product's effectiveness.
- The ad offers a money-back guarantee. Getting money back is not proof of effectiveness.
- The wording in the ad sounds technical. The advertiser may expect you to be impressed, but it' not proof that the product will do what it says.
- The ad claims that the product is a "natural" remedy. Many "natural" substances are harmful to people, such as poison ivy, so this claim doesn't mean it will help or that it won't harm you.
- The ad states that supplies are limited and/or you have to pay in advance.
Other suspicious phrases, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, are “scientific breakthrough,” "miraculous cure," "secret ingredient," or "ancient remedy." These terms may sound impressive, but advertisers can easily use them without offering proof to support their claims.
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