“Cancer Cures” Are All Over the Internet—and the FDA Isn’t Happy About It

Vendors have been peddling snake oil since the dawn of time, but when it comes to cancer treatments, the FDA is not messing around.

Photographee.eu/ShutterstockBogus come-ons pop up online all the time, but there’s a world of difference between offering a free cookware set or a face lift in a bottle—and promising a “cure” for cancer.

At least according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has now called out the companies claiming to diagnose, treat, or even cure cancer in their ads, videos, and other marketing ploys, such as testimonials that boast miraculous outcomes. Federal investigators have spent months scoping out these bogus products, and have now compiled a report of 14 companies peddling fake cures, including pills, topical creams, ointments, oils, drops, syrups, teas, and diagnostic tools (such as thermography devices). They include products marketed for use by humans or pets that make illegal, unproven claims regarding preventing, reversing or curing cancer; killing or inhibiting cancer cells or tumors; or other similar anti-cancer claims.

The FDA warns that the products are a cruel deception, taking advantage of vulnerable and desperate cancer patients.

“A cancer diagnosis often provokes a sense of desperation,” physicians at the FDA wrote in a blog post. “Unfortunately, rogue operations exploiting those fears peddle untested and potentially dangerous products, particularly on the Internet.” The FDA is responding by taking enforcement actions against unscrupulous companies and by educating consumers to be wary of unproven claims.

They have issued warning letters to 14 U.S.-based companies illegally selling more than 65 products. If companies do not cease hocking their wares, they “face criminal prosecution and court-ordered decrees that require them to recall products and get written permission from FDA before resuming operations.” If the violations are not corrected, companies are subject to one year in federal prison, five years’ probation and a fine of either $100,000 or twice the gain from the offense.

Along with wasting people’s money, the bigger problem with phony remedies is the detrimental effect they can have on people’s health. The products could have various known side effects, and worse, could prevent people from taking actual life-saving medications for cancer. (Whatever you do, don’t fall for these cancer myths.)

“These products are untested,” warned Donald D. Ashley, director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, and Douglas Stearn, director of the Office of Enforcement and Import Operations within FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. “Some contain ingredients that may be a direct risk to your health. The ingredients may interact in a dangerous way with professionally prescribed treatments. They are not a substitute for appropriate treatments. Using these products can waste your money, and, more importantly, endanger your health.”

The FDA published the listing the names of firms that “exploit the fears” of vulnerable patients desperately seeking a lifeline on Monday, April 25. The companies in question now have 15 days to respond with how they plan to comply with the law, or they will be faced with the FDA’s pursuit of legal action.

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