Federal regulators are targeting more than two dozen companies they accuse of peddling "fake cures" and false hope to desperate cancer patients.
Officials with the Food and Drug Administration say these "online scammers" are a new twist on old-fashioned hucksters, using the Internet to hawk modern-day snake oil as a cure for cancer.
"Health fraud has been around for years and it is a cruel form of greed," said David Elder, the FDA's top enforcement officer. "Fraud involving cancer treatments can be especially horrible."
The 25 companies — mostly in the U.S., with the exception of one in Canada and another in Australia — sell tonics, creams, teas and pills that make extraordinary claims like "cancers disappear" and will allow a patient to "avoid painful surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other conventional treatments."
The active ingredients – things like shark cartilage, shiitake mushrooms, bloodroot and coral calcium – have not been approved by the FDA as safe or effective treatments.
While the FDA has received no reports of injuries from these products, Elder said he is concerned some products "may present a direct safety hazard." One worry is that consumers will use these "bogus cures" rather than "products that have been proven safe and effective." Another is that the unapproved products may "get in the way of" conventional treatments because many patients do not tell doctors they are using them.
If companies do not respond to the warning letters, Elder said, the FDA will seize products and will prosecute those selling them.
This is the latest in a series of efforts by the FDA to target sales of unapproved products on the Internet. In the past they have gone after firms selling allegedly bogus diabetes and weight-loss products.
The list of products and letters can be found at: http://www.fda.gov/cder/news/fakecancercuresWL.htm