September 19, 2008

FTC Warns of Bogus Cancer Cures, Treatments

Five companies were charged with making false and misleading claims for cancer cures, according to the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday.

Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said the Food and Drug Administration and Canadian authorities were cooperating to warn consumers about misleading cures.

"As long as products have been sold there has been somebody out there selling snake oil to consumers," said Parnes.

"There is no credible scientific evidence that any of the products marketed by these companies can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind," she said.

The products the companies marketed include essiac teas and other herbal mixtures, laetrile, black salve - a corrosive ointment - and mushroom extracts.

Richard Jaffe, an attorney representing Native Essence Herb Company, named by the FTC selling misleading products, says the government is trying to censor his client.

Jaffe said some herbs have a historical use for treatment of cancer and other medical conditions, adding that because an herb was used by ancient Chinese or native Americans doesn't mean it works, "which most people understand."

"In our view it's a battle between the right to speak and the government's censorship," Jaffe said.

Douglas Stearn of the FDA said his agency is concerned that people may forgo effective cancer treatments when choosing these products. In addition, he said, some of these unproven products may have dangerous interactions with other drugs.

"We would urge folks to talk to their doctors," said Stearn.

The FTC is also trying to educate consumers in hopes that they will be more skeptical of online claims that a product can cure or treat cancer.

Parnes said more than 100 warning letters were sent out and many advertisers dropped or changed their claims.

Of the complaints resolved by settlements, she said companies paid restitution ranging from $9,000 to $250,000.

The remaining five complaints of false and deceptive advertising will go before administrative law judges, she said.


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