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FDA Denounces "Cruel Deception" by 14 Companies Selling Fake Cancer Cures

Christina Mattina
The FDA announced yesterday it had issued warning letters to 14 companies peddling a total of over 65 products falsely claiming to cure or treat cancer. The agency’s forceful stance seemed intended to raise awareness among vulnerable consumers as well as discourage other potential instances of fraud.
The FDA announced yesterday it had issued warning letters to 14 companies peddling a total of over 65 products falsely claiming to cure or treat cancer. The agency’s forceful stance seemed intended to raise awareness among vulnerable consumers as well as discourage other potential instances of fraud.

In a press release, the FDA explained that the products in question came in a wide array of forms, including pills, creams, drops, and syrups, but were all marketed to treat or cure cancer despite not having been approved as safe and effective by the FDA. The agency urged patients to avoid these untested products and consult a healthcare professional before taking any sort of treatment for their cancer.

“Consumers should not use these or similar unproven products because they may be unsafe and could prevent a person from seeking an appropriate and potentially life-saving cancer diagnosis or treatment,” said Douglas W. Stearn, JD, director of the Office of Enforcement and Import Operations in the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, in the statement.

An FDA blog post elaborated further, warning readers that the ingredients in these products “may be a direct risk to your health” and could “interact in a dangerous way with professionally-prescribed treatments.” “Using these products can waste your money, and, more importantly, endanger your health,” it concluded.

The sale of fraudulent cancer “treatments” is a recurring battle fought by the FDA, as it has issued more than 90 warning letters over the past decade. The press release indicated that just as soon as 1 company is shut down, others tend to spring up, partially due to the ease of creating new websites.

The blog post went into more detail on how the companies selling these products “used slick ads, videos, and other sophisticated marketing techniques” to promote the products. It also noted that often vendors would boldly advertise miraculous results but include a barely noticeable disclaimer in a misguided attempt to evade the law.

“Making such obvious claims and then saying later that you are not doing so might seem clever, but the technique does not comply with federal laws intended to protect public health,” the post stated.

A consumer update issued in conjunction with the announcement listed some phrases that should raise eyebrows for consumers, like “miraculously kills cancer cells and tumors.” However, it acknowledged that the “cruel deception” perpetrated by the manufacturers of these products was so effective because it targeted the especially vulnerable population of patients diagnosed with cancer and their families.

“Anyone who suffers from cancer, or knows someone who does, understands the fear and desperation that can set in,” said Nicole Kornspan, MPH, a consumer safety officer at the FDA, in the update. “There can be a great temptation to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.”

Kornspan also cautioned that these disreputable companies have learned to prey on emotions to sell fraudulent “cures” aimed at pets with cancer, not just people.

“Increasingly, bogus remedies claiming to cure cancer in cats and dogs are showing up online,” she said. “People who cannot afford to spend large sums at the animal hospital to treat cancer in their beloved dogs and cats are searching for less expensive remedies.”

According to the blog post, each of the companies now has 15 business days to respond to the warning letters. If they do not submit a plan to become compliant with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by then, they could face a forced product recall or criminal prosecution that may result in substantial fines or time in federal prison. 

 
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