CANCERactive Concerns

By Josephine Jones

I have some strong concerns about CANCERactive. I think some of the information on their website is inaccurate. Some is misleading. Some is dangerously irresponsible.

But who are CANCERactive?

In their own words,

CANCERactive is Britain´s Number 1 holistic cancer charity. (Some people call us an Integrative, or Integrated Cancer Charity).

They pride themselves on being the ‘Patient’s Champion’ and boast that they take no remuneration for the work that they do. They also point out that they

do not receive funds directly or indirectly from large corporations such as pharmaceutical companies, and so this site is truly independent with no vested interests and based on the research that is available, interpreted in a balanced way

They even claim to pride themselves on being evidence-based.

Laudable though this appears, there are some big problems here. I believe there’s an implication that those who dismiss alternative cancer treatments are doing so because they have vested interests. I believe there’s an implication that CANCERactive look carefully at all the available research while reputable medical professionals and other cancer charities only look at the research that suits them.

This conspiracy theory can drive a wedge between cancer patients and their doctors, leading them to ignore good advice, even to deny themselves essential treatment. It can drive a wedge between patients and their loved ones, at the worst possible time. It can allow the most vulnerable people to simply believe what they want to believe, spending money they don’t have on treatments that don’t work.

But I must choose my words very carefully.

CANCERactive founder, Chris Woollams wrote here

Professor David Colquhoun and his inaccuracy, lack of research, lack of attention to detail and defamatory comments of both Chris Woollams and the charity CANCERactive has prompted legal action against him and his DC’s Improbable Science blog.

This is unfortunate.

I wouldn’t say that CANCERactive are pushing dangerous quackery at the desperately ill. After all, they do state, in red:

We are an information-only site presenting you with information that is already available in the public domain; we do not give advice even though our patrons and advisors number Professors, Doctors and experts in many fields. The provision of information on the website does not constitute our recommendation or endorsement of that information or its provider.

Of course the site doesn’t advertise cancer treatments. Nor does it give advice about cancer treatments as part of any form of advertising. That would be against the law. (Incidentally, Chris Woollams isn’t a fan of the Cancer Act.)

So, there are no adverts on the CANCERactive site. They just prominently mention a couple of books by Chris Woollams and also prominently link to the Natural Selection shop. This sells a wide range of ‘health’ products, apparently chosen and used by a selection team including Chris Woollams. I must point out here that Chris Woollams is not an employee or a director of the shop, nor does he take any remuneration from it.

But what information on the CANCERactive site is misleading, inaccurate or dangerously irresponsible..?

It’s hard to know where to begin.

This is what they say about Dr Burzysnki and antineoplastons:

His work – which is non-toxic – with brain tumour patients and those with other cancers produced results that beat the statistics seen for standard radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.

That is simply untrue.

Here is what CANCERactive say about Gerson Therapy:

The basic idea of the Therapy is to stimulate the body´s own immune defences to do what they normally do in a healthy body, whilst readjusting the balance of the molecules and atoms within the cells, returning them to levels normally found in healthy cells.

It doesn’t really matter what the ‘basic idea’ is, if that idea is based on imaginative pseudoscientific drivel.

Once both parts of this Therapy are fully established the theory is that a diseased body will be restored to full health. There is no doubt that this therapy has had notable successes, especially given that patients have often tried and failed with all available orthodox treatments first.

There is no reliable evidence that this therapy has had any successes, notable or otherwise.

In the case of cancer, diseased cells have been known to liquefy, which in itself creates a further problem. The process of breaking down tumours can be so effective that large amounts of toxins are released by the diseased cells into the blood stream. However, the largest detoxification organ, namely the liver, is often seriously impaired when cancer is in the body and so it needs to be cleansed and stimulated to deal with the extreme levels of toxins.

More pseudoscience. More wishful thinking. Gerson Therapy consists of a strict diet (with a very heavy emphasis on ‘juicing’) and up to five coffee enemas a day. This doesn’t cure cancer, nor does it ‘cleanse’ or ‘stimulate’ the liver.

I could continue. Visit the site yourself. Look at the information they give on the idea of homeopathy as a cancer treatment or the theory that cancer is caused by an excess of Candida albicans and may be cured with sodium bicarbonate. More dangerous, irresponsible, pseudoscientific nonsense.

And if you thought that was bad, I’ve not even started on the list of Cancer treatment centres and clinics discussed here.

Naturally, there’s a disclaimer (on this page):

We want to make it absolutely clear, up front, that we do not differentiate between them, nor endorse them; we do not intend to ´promote´ any of them – we seek merely to INFORM. We aim to treat every one of these equally and fairly, be they alternative or orthodox.

CANCERactive are unintentionally promoting some very dubious clinics.

These include the Raphael Medical Centre – a residential clinic in Kent, based on the anthroposophic image of man. They treat cancer with mistletoe.

And before you call me narrow minded for doubting the efficacy of mistletoe for cancer, please read the systematic review.

In addition to several other unproven treatments, mistletoe therapy is also used by the Klinik St Georg, the Hospital Dr Herzog and the Parascelcus Klinik, all listed by CANCERactive. Some of these places even carry out holistic dentistry, in the belief that teeth have energy connections to different organs all over the body.

American clinics listed by CANCERactive include, naturally, the much blogged Burzynski Clinic, the Gerson Institute and the Oasis of Hope hospital in Mexico, which provides a range of dubious treatments, including laetrile. There isn’t any evidence that laetrile is an effective cancer treatment. Furthermore, laetrile contains cyanide, which means that the side effects can be severe, even leading to death.

Given the existence of the Cancer Act, you might be surprised at how much alternative cancer treatment is available in the United Kingdom, again, listed for our convenience by CANCERactive. Just to be clear, I don’t mean complementary therapies such as massage, which may help patients relax and help them cope better with symptoms and side effects of conventional treatment. I mean things like intravenous vitamin C – used by CANCERactive’s expert Dr Andre Young-Snell at his Vision of Hope Clinic in Brighton. And things like Carctol – a herbal mixture (not a licensed medicine) which is recommended by Dr Rosy Daniel, who also happens to be one of CANCERactive’s experts.

There is no reliable evidence to support the use of such treatments for cancer. And yet it’s perfectly understandable that given a stark diagnosis, people will grasp at straws. If there is the tiniest glimmer of hope, desperate parents would do anything to save their child. It is crucial that difficult decisions about cancer treatment are made based on good, accurate information, not on wishful thinking.

False hope can be very cruel indeed.

Related articles

Bad advice about cancer from ICON / canceractive David Colquhoun, DC’s Improbable Science (currently offline), 10/09/06

There’s no conspiracy – sometimes it just doesn’t work Kat Arney, Science Update blog, Cancer Research UK, 06/07/11

Hope or false hope? Kat Arney, Science Update blog, Cancer Research UK, 25/11/11

Burzynski and Patient Choice Jennifer Keane, And another thing…, 03/12/12

The hope that holds desperate parents to ransom Jan Moir, MailOnline, 30/06/12

Bad advice about cancer from icon / CANCERactive Chris Woollams, Junk Science?, 07/07/12

The Confusing Case of the “Cancer Active” Charity jdc, Stuff and Nonsense, 08/07/12

Cancer “cures” Guy Chapman, Guy Chapman’s Blahg, 11/07/12

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0 Responses to CANCERactive Concerns

  1. Wikipedia: The Cancer Act 1939 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in 1939. Its most notable provision is a clause prohibiting taking any part in publication, except under specified conditions, of advertisements that “offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof”. The expression “advertisement” includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, and any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds. The Act provides for exceptions in making material available to registered medical and nursing personnel and pharmacists, and for material produced by hospitals and local authorities. Various of its provisions have now been updated. The Act does not apply in Northern Ireland.

    Why can’t this be used against such people?

    And the silencing of David Colquhoun, FRS, is further proof, if proof were needed, of the urgency of reforming our libel laws.

  2. Stormlilly says:

    The stated aim of the site to provide information that is not necessarily recommended by the owners of the site is confusing. The editorial content of the site and the tone suggests that the site is recommending clinics/treatments etc.

    An individual who encounters a treatment and then looks for information on the internet will see this site as offering an independent (if sympathetic) opinion.

    The information on this site does not seem to be independent, a good amount of the infomation appears to be provided by the practitioners discussed. For example I found a cancer consultant whose services were described in very similar language to that on her site, her partner whose own site suggested that he was a medical doctor (rather than a PhD) was advertised as if he were a medical doctor.

    This site is dangerous as the tone suggests it is more than an advertising board for practitioners and yet it does not seem to be.

  3. Paul –

    The Cancer Act seems to be very rarely enforced. I have made a fair few complaints to Trading Standards citing this Act in the past and they have almost all been ignored. I have yet to complain about the CANCERactive or Natural Selection sites but I believe others have done so. It could be argued that the CANCERactive site doesn’t constitute advertising and that the Natural Selection site doesn’t give advice on cancer treatments. I think they are sailing very close to the wind here.

    Incidentally, this new post is very interesting – on Chris Woollams and those websites:

    And yes, reform of English libel law(including a usable public interest defence) is long overdue. This has made me wonder exactly how does the law differ in Scotland?

    Stormlilly –

    I agree. CANCERactive, the linked Natural Selection site and the linked books by Woollams are promoting alternative cancer treatments and giving advice on cancer treatment – whatever the various disclaimers say (intentionally or otherwise). The fact this is coming from a charity and that it’s presented as simply the sharing of information makes it even more misleading and even more dangerous(especially given the negative portrayal of ‘skeptics’ and ‘naysayers’).

  4. I believe the law is better in Scotland, but I don’t know the details.

    Does any of this count as “advertising”? (Not that the ASA is much use)

  5. The ASA regulate company websites. The Natural Selection Shop (aka rainbowfoods aka Chris Woollams 4 Health) linked from the CANCERactive site would certainly count. However, there are few health claims made on that site. In fact, there is even a disclaimer stating:

    Please be clear. At Chris Woollams 4 Health we do not consider any one of these products to be a cancer treatment or ‘cure’ or a treatment or ‘cure’ for any other disease.

    Also, all individuals should consult their own Doctor or Medical Specialist before taking any supplements, taking any treatment or refraining from taking any treatment. ”

    The claims about the products are on the CANCERactive site, which they take great care to point out is not promotional but merely providing information. I believe that – intentionally or otherwise – these people are avoiding regulation by taking advantage of a loophole.

  6. Elliot Lewton says:

    Alternative treatments more often than not also works like conventional medicine. they are even safer and cheaper too. ,,,;:


  7. Elliot’s link tells us about keyhole appendectomy as an alternative to a conventional incision. That is why keyhole surgery was developed in, and has been adopted by, mainstream medicine.

    But that’s not what “alternative medicine” means.

  8. Elliot has apparently posted as ‘Jeannie’ on my personal blog here:

    It’s the same comment on the same post from the same IP address.

    As I said there, alternative treatments do not work like conventional medicine. If they did, they would be incorporated into conventional medicine.

    I was quite baffled as to why s/he chose to link to an article about appendectomy. As you say, it’s not what is meant by ‘alternative medicine’.

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