FDA cracks down on bogus cancer treatments

(CBS NEWS) Herbal tea remedies, asparagus extract, and a number of topical creams and ointments are among the products that fraudulently claim to prevent, treat or cure cancer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Yesterday, the agency issued warning letters to 14 U.S.-based companies peddling more than 65 of these bogus cancer cures. The products are marketed and sold without FDA approval, most commonly on websites and social media platforms.

“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,” Douglas W. Stearn, director of the Office of Enforcement and Import Operations in the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, said in a statement. “We encourage people to remain vigilant whether online or in a store, and avoid purchasing products marketed to treat cancer without any proof they will work. Patients should consult a health care professional about proper prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

The 14 companies are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which makes it illegal to market and sell “products that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate or cure” diseases without first demonstrating to the FDA that they are safe and effective for their labeled uses. 

Products cited in the warnings include a variety of vitamin pills, topical creams, ointments, oils, drops, syrups, teas, and thermography devices — even a “natural salve” for skin cancer. A full list of companies and products are listed on the FDA’s website.

“These companies used slick ads, videos, and other sophisticated marketing techniques, including testimonials about miraculous outcomes,” Stearn said in a blog post he co-wrote with Donald D. Ashley, director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Often a single product was promoted as a treatment or cure for multiple diseases in humans and animals.”

The agency has requested responses from the 14 companies stating how the violations will be corrected. Failure to do so can result in up to one year in federal prison, five years’ probation and a fine of either $100,000 or twice the gain from the offense.

The FDA urges health care professionals and consumers to report any adverse reactions associated with these or similar products to the agency’s MedWatch program.

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