Patients go online to fund dodgy therapies
January 9, 2019
LONDON, UK – Canadian researchers have published a paper in the The Lancet showing that a growing number of cancer patients are using online sites like GoFundMe to raise money for alternative treatments, such as homeopathic remedies. Unfortunately, most of the treatments are medically unproven and possibly dangerous.
“It is estimated that approximately half of all patients with cancer use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and its popularity is on the rise,” write authors Jeremy Snyder (pictured on left) and Timothy Caulfield (pictured on right).
Snyder is a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Caulfield is a professor of law and director of the Health Law Institute, Faculty of Law, at the University of Alberta.
“Patients with cancer seek these alternative therapies for a variety of reasons including providing a sense of control, helping with pain, and coping with treatment. But there are clear risks associated with this trend, including concerns that desperate patients can be exploited or that the CAM treatment could be harmful, or result in an adverse interaction with conventional therapy.
“Indeed, a 2018 study found that use of CAM by patients with cancer was associated with a reduced chance of survival.”
The authors note there is broad agreement in the scientific community that therapies such as homeopathy are ineffective and perform no better than a placebo.
Nevertheless, desperate patients unable to afford alternative cancer treatments are sometimes using social networks to raise money.
“This rapidly growing practice is dominated by the online platform GoFundMe, which hosts more than 80% of the global market for personal crowdfunding and has raised more than US$5 billion from more than 50 million donors.”
Last year, Snyder and Caulfield searched the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe for medical crowdfunding campaigns that included the words “cancer” and “homeopathic”, “homeopath”, or “homeopathy” using the platform’s search engine.
They identified 220 unique campaigns.
Of 220 campaigners, 186 were in the United States, and 23 were in Canada. They requested $5.8 million and raised $1.4 million.
The researchers also found that 62 of the campaigners had died following the start of their campaigns, evidence that they were very ill.
“In addition to self-described homeopathic treatments, campaigners sought a range of other unproven cancer treatments, including dietary changes such as juicing and organic foods, supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies, vitamin C infusions, oxygen, ozone, and hyperbaric treatments, acupuncture, cannabis-based treatments including cannabidiol, naturopathy, immunotherapy for unapproved settings, and cleanses and detoxification.”
The crowdfunding campaigners were seeking funding for alterative cancer treatments to complement proven treatments, as an alternative to proven treatments, and because proven treatments are not available.
One 47-year-old mother from Tennessee had chosen to forgo traditional cancer treatments for her late stage breast cancer and rely on natural therapies instead.
“I am a cancer patient, NOT a chemo patient,” she posted on the online fundraising site GoFundMe. “Chemo is a serious poison” that destroys bones, kidneys and livers, and decimates the immune system,” she said. Instead, she is trying to raise money for homeopathic and other natural therapies, including juicing organic carrots.
Snyder and Caulfield write in the Lancet article that, “Campaigns driven by any of these rationales have the potential to exacerbate problems associated with the use of alternative cancer treatments, including wasting resources and raising false hopes for better health.”