Online fundraising websites are driving the use of alternative ‘quack’ treatments for cancer, experts have warned.
The number of patients turning to crowdfunding to pay for therapies not available on the NHS is soaring.
But doctors are concerned many treatments – which can cost desperate people thousands of pounds – are not backed by evidence.
On JustGiving alone (picture of the website), fundraising campaigns for cancer treatments rose seven-fold in a single year, from 304 in 2015 to 2,348 in 2016, the data shows
Access to online funds is feared to have ‘opened up a new and lucrative revenue stream for cranks, charlatans and conmen who prey on the vulnerable’, according to the British Medical Journal.
Figures published in the BMJ today show that since 2012, £8million has been raised on UK crowdfunding sites such as JustGiving and GoFundMe for alternative cancer therapies.
More than 90 per cent of that has involved clinics abroad, with patients seeking treatment in locations ranging from Mexico and Turkey to India and the US.
On JustGiving alone, fundraising campaigns for cancer treatments rose seven-fold in a single year, from 304 in 2015 to 2,348 in 2016, the data shows.
Much of this has been for experimental but credible treatments not funded by a cash-strapped NHS.
But the Good Thinking Society, the science charity which gathered the figures, said many patients are being exploited by quack doctors whose treatments are not proven to work.
GoFundMe (website pictured), which used to charge a fee on donations but became free to use in January, said it is ‘taking proactive steps’ in the US to make sure users of its site are better informed
The society’s project director, Michael Marshall, said: ‘We are concerned that so many UK patients are raising huge sums for treatments which are not evidence-based and which in some cases may even do them harm.
‘If these platforms want to continue to benefit from the goodwill of their users – and profit from the fees they charge – they have a responsibility to ensure that they do not facilitate the exploitation of vulnerable people.’
He said the crowdfunding sites should vet all cancer appeals and reject proposals for discredited options such as ‘extreme dietary regimes, intravenous vitamin C, alkaline therapy and other alternative treatments’.
Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, backed the move, pointing out that crowdfunding sites already prohibit appeals involving violence or illegal activity.
‘Crowdfunding for cancer quackery is not any better and must be stopped,’ he said.
GoFundMe, which used to charge a fee on donations but became free to use in January, said it is ‘taking proactive steps’ in the US to make sure users of its site are better informed. It said that it would introduce the changes across the globe soon.
JustGiving, which charges a 5 per cent fee on donations, said it offers advice and guidance to those donating or raising money – but did not specify whether this includes the evidence around medical treatments.