WASHINGTON - In an effort to crack down on fraudulent remedies, the government has warned 25 companies to stop selling cancer cures over the Internet that federal health officials say could disrupt legitimate treatment and even harm unsuspecting patients.
Food and Drug Administration officials, who announced yesterday that they are investigating fake cancer remedies, said warning letters had been sent to Internet sellers of tablets, lotions and tonics that purport to cure cancer. The firms could have their products seized or face prosecution if they don't stop marketing the products within 15 days, according to the FDA.
"Some products may present a direct safety hazard, while others could potentially interfere with medicines that a patient is already taking," said David Elder, director of the FDA's Office of Enforcement. He called the fraudulent sales "a cruel form of greed."
Officials couldn't point to any particular examples of harm to patients, but said one product, Black Salve, can burn away healthy skin. Officials also expressed concern that patients, by taking one of the 125 unapproved products, may avoid getting legitimate treatment.
The moves underscore the power of the Internet as a marketplace for fraudulent remedies. Similar problems in the pre-computer age led Congress to pass a 1938 law that gives the FDA the power to bar sales of unproven products that could cause injury or death.
Earlier this year, authorities in Canada and Mexico and at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to representatives of 112 Web sites that were being used to hawk unproven cancer treatments. FDA officials said they have been working with those agencies.
The FDA's warning letters were sent over the past two months to companies from California to Delaware, Canada and Australia. By law, the companies can't make unapproved health claims for drugs that the FDA hasn't examined.
The companies receiving FDA warning letters - with names like Road to Healing, Herbal Remission and Best On Earth Products - made false claims touting the benefits of pills, skin creams and tea drops, FDA officials said.
The products were made from materials such as shark cartilage, red raspberries and burdock root, and sellers fraudulently claimed such benefits as alleviating cancer symptoms, inhibiting tumor growth and destroying cancer cells, FDA officials said.
For a list of the companies, and links to the warning letters, go to: http://www.fda.gov/cder/news/fakecancercuresWL.htm. For more information on avoiding online cancer product fraud, see: http://www.fda.gov/consumer/updates/cancerfraud061708.html