In this post, blog editor Caroline demystifies some of the wackiest ‘cures’ for cancer that have appeared on our radar recently.
Cancer is difficult for everyone. When you tell someone that you have cancer, they might not know what to say. After overcoming their initial shock, many people’s first instinct is to want to help. Sometimes help comes in the form of a hug, or a casserole – but often it can come as an ill-advised miracle treatment from the depths of the internet. Who knows where your friend or neighbour read this information? Are they even certain that it applies to your type of cancer? Chances are, you probably weren’t looking for a miracle cure and a huge Amazon shopping list when you shared the news either. When we share our medical history, most of us are probably hoping for some quiet understanding – and it can be frustrating and hurtful to be given dubious healthcare advice instead.
At our Great Escape retreat, we run a workshop that encourages young adults with cancer to engage critically with news stories and homespun ‘truths’ about cures for cancer. We discuss everything from apricot kernels to naked mole rats, and look at ways to check the authenticity of any alleged cancer ‘cure’. We often find that the stories doing the rounds lack rigorous scientific evidence, or the findings of one small study have been incorrectly extrapolated and interpreted by non-specialists. Or the proposed treatment does have some benefits – in mice.
We asked our Shine community to share the craziest ‘cures’ for cancer that they’d heard recently – and here’s what they told us.
Maybe that famous saying should be ‘When life gives you cancer, make lemonade’, as so many members of our Shine community recall being told by well-meaning folk that lemons are the secret cure for cancer. According to one chain letter that keeps doing the rounds, ‘blend a whole lemon fruit with a cup of hot water and drinking it for about 1-3 months first thing before food and your cancer will disappear’! Well… it won’t.
Not keen on citrus? That might not be a problem! We’ve been told that pineapple, dragon fruit, ‘papayas… all the papayas’, and noni fruit are five-star cancer slayers. Unfortunately, munching your way through a pile of notoriously stinky noni fruit will not cure your cancer. There’s no evidence that pineapple, dragon fruit, or papaya will either. As the American Institute of Cancer Research points out, ‘no single food or food component can protect you against cancer itself’. If someone tries to convince you otherwise, you might like to point them in the direction of US cancer hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering’s excellent resource About Herbs or Cancer Research UK’s diet and cancer information pages. Always check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.
Crystals and moon beads
One Shine member was told that she could cure her cancer by using special beads that are supercharged by the moon! And have you heard the one about crystals? Opal won’t cure your cancer (or ‘remove all the cancer-causing negative energy from your house’, as a young cancer patient friend of ours was told), but crystals of a different kind have proved vital in modern cancer research. Best to enjoy minerals like rose quartz and malachite as decoration, though.
In April 2019, a lung cancer patient in the US hit the headlines when he proclaimed that dog-worming drug fenbendazole had cured his metastatic disease – which is probably why we’ve heard about it from our Shine community recently. The internet is awash with tales of self-medication for advanced cancer, and at least one study of the effect of fenbendazole on cancer cells has been carried out. Crucially, however, there have been no clinical trials on cancer patients as yet and thus its effectiveness remains unproven. Don’t go rushing to Pets At Home this afternoon!
Not one, but two Shine members told us that taxi drivers had personally intervened to ‘cure’ their cancer!
‘He clasps my hand and absolutely goes “into one”. I am talking full-on, TV-show-style mega prayer, calling the spirit of [insert religious icon of your choice] to help rid me of cancer. This went on for a few minutes and I was so stunned I just sat there. He’d had the good grace to turn the meter off.
Anyway, he’s calling everyone under the sun down to channel through him and into my body (creepy!) and rid me of cancer. Then, just when I thought we were done (I’m still holding my hand awkwardly in his), he says this:
I mean, all of a sudden, he shouts “cancer… GO!” so loudly that it actually makes me jump and squeal.
Then he turns to me, gives me back my hand, and smiles sweetly as he says “there, you are cured.”’
Unsurprisingly, we don’t have an explanation for this one. Nor do we have any evidence that it works.
The truth is out there
It’s not all citrus fruit and Uber drivers. We also heard from young people who had been told that they could cure their cancer through things like veganism (one of our vegan members was told that she must have been ‘doing veganism wrong!’), wheatgrass, and foraging for mushrooms in Regent’s Park. And somehow we’ve managed to reach the end of this blog post without mentioning everyone’s favourite super cruciferous, kale.
So what can you do when someone tells you that they know exactly what to do in order to treat your cancer? If they’re your doctor, lean in. If they aren’t? You might want to direct them to this excellent infographic that clearly explains the difference between relative risk and absolute risk – and shows why your bangers and mash is unlikely to kill you. There are some excellent resources available for people who wish to understand more about the science behind the headlines. You might like to check out Sense About Science, the Cancer Research UK Science Blog, or Quackwatch – a doctor-led website that has been busting myths and outing quacks since 1997.
Ask for evidence, do your own research, and remember to talk to your medical team before making any diet or lifestyle changes. And if you’ve had to bust a cancer myth recently, let us know in the comments!