Recently there have been a lot of stories in the news about fake cancer cures. This includes a letter in a national newspaper expressing understandable annoyance about cancer patients choosing fake cures over science.
I believe in science. I firmly believe that there is no big pharma conspiracy to conceal the cures for cancer. To claim otherwise is highly offensive to the incredible people working in cancer research. I’m following conventional treatments for my cancer and listening to my oncologist. However, I don’t blame the patients that choose the deadly path of alternative treatments. They are vulnerable, terrified and clinging to hope wherever they can find it. Tragically their choice will probably kill them, but they have that right. They are potentially being pressured by terrified family and friends who have done “research” out of love and hope of helping. Knowledge is power and patients need much more power to help them make better choices.
Instead of blaming the patients who make the wrong choice I blame three groups for their tragic fates.
Firstly I blame the evil, cruel and manipulative beings (I can’t call them people) that promote fake cancer cures for profit or personal gain. They are deliberately exploiting incredibly vulnerable people and their families. They disgust me. I think they should be thrown in prison for as long as possible. Nobody should ever be allowed to profit from harming cancer patients. If you tackle the liars then patients and their families will be able to find genuine information far more easily.
Secondly I blame the media and social media companies. I’ve lost count of the number of irresponsible articles I’ve seen in major newspapers about cancer. Especially claims of miracle cures and treatments that are usually based on very early research studies. These articles might seem harmless but can promote cancer cure myths and encourage people to make radical and often unnecessary lifestyle changes. They can also generate false hope leading to broken hearts, which leaves people vulnerable to the fraudsters. There needs to be guidelines for the media on responsibly reporting about cancer treatments.
Similarly social media companies need to get serious about dealing with people promoting fake cancer cures. Twitter for example is littered with fake cures ranging from red liquorice to green tea. However, there is no specific category to report these accounts under. There needs to be a way of quickly reporting accounts promoting fake cancer cures that results in their immediate suspension.
I would also like to see online companies being forced to deliberately guide people towards reputable sources of information. Surely having Google say “you appear to be looking for information on cancer, we advise Cancer Research UK as a good source” is possible.
Finally instead of blaming the patients who make the wrong decisions I partly blame the NHS and major cancer charities. The charlatans and fraudsters are filling a gap that has been left wide open for them. The charities could lobby for change in the media and to make social media tackle the liars. The NHS and charities could be promoting knowledge about cancer treatments and facts about cancer. Campaigns on heart attacks and strokes have made a big impact – imagine that amount of effort going into a campaign about the facts of cancer treatments. Vinnie Jones shouting that chemo fights cancer would be awesome. If you haven’t seen it check out the CPR video he did for charity. You’ll never forget how to do CPR!
Charities also need to think about what they put online and how accessible it is. Many patients and their families will search social media for cancer cures and treatments. Doing so is perfectly natural. Love it or hate it, social media is a massive part of everyday life. However, they are very unlikely to find scientific answers that they can understand. Reputable sources of information are often highly technical – sometimes out of necessity. Unfortunately that means that simple sounding “cures” with pretty pictures will look very attractive compared to complicated charts and big words.
Ignorance is always looking for room in this world. The NHS and charities have the influence and resources to crowd out the liars with facts and science. I would love to see them do so. Instead of just publishing information on their sites, it would be fantastic to see charities and the NHS directly challenging the liars online.
There are always going to be people that won’t believe the truth if it hits them in the face. However, I have faith that most people would support science if they were protected from fiction a bit better. If just one person can be saved it has to be worth it. I love the quote “whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”.
While I wait and hope for that world, I won’t judge the victims of fraudsters. They are vulnerable crime victims. There is lots of information out there to try and stop people from being conned out of money. Am I completely unreasonable to want more action to try and stop people from being conned out of life?