Patients using crowdfunding to promote unproven alternative cancer treatments, study finds

Patients are using crowdfunding campaigns for alternative cancer treatments, but the practice raises concerns because it is helping to promote unproven therapies, according to the authors of a study published by The Lancet Oncology.

For the study, Canadian researchers Jeremy Snyder of Simon Fraser University and Timothy Caulfield of the University of Alberta searched the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe for medical campaigns. They identified 220 campaigns through the June 2018 search. Eighty-five percent of the 220 campaigns were in the U.S.

Researchers said campaigns sought self-described homeopathic treatments as well as other unproven cancer treatments, including dietary changes such as juicing and organic foods; supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies; acupuncture; and cannabis-based treatments including cannabidiol.

Thirty-eight percent of people used alternative treatments as complementary to traditional treatment, and nearly 30 percent of campaigns were for people who decided not to undergo traditional treatment due to concerns about its effects or the efficacy of those treatments.

Researchers said they also found that individuals "often felt alternative treatments were a more natural alternative to 'synthetic medicines,'" and 4 percent of the studied campaigns did not include rationale for seeking alternative cancer treatments.

Additionally, 29 percent of campaigns made unsubstantiated, positive claims about the activity of alternative cancer treatments, according to the study.

"In light of these findings, there should be concern that crowdfunding has the potential to exacerbate existing and create new problems within the market for alternative cancer treatments," the study authors concluded. "Oncologists and other medical practitioners should be prepared to discuss these concerns with their patients. Cancer research agencies and patient support groups could raise the profile of these issues with public statements of concern around the role of crowdfunding in encouraging the use of unproven cancer treatments. Partnerships with crowdfunding platforms should also be sought to combat the worst forms of harm and misinformation transmitted via these campaigns."

Access the full study here.

 

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