SOUTH LANARKSHIRE, Scotland — Facebook can be a breeding ground for misinformation. Now, the husband of one cancer patient is warning that the social media platform could be providing people with bogus treatments for the disease. Cancer patients are being bombarded with “miracle cures” on Facebook, ranging from salt water and sound videos to dangerous scrubs that dissolve the skin.
Sellers are also allegedly touting miracle mineral supplement (MMS), a bleach solution, and an animal de-wormer on “alternative health” groups — where some actually recommend drinking urine as well.
Brian Eggo posted on Facebook groups to see what kind of response he would get after his wife Laura, a 41-year-old biomedical scientist, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2021. The 49-year-old started his investigations in February 2022 as Laura was getting closer towards the end of her treatment.
Brian, an IT consultant in Scotland and father of one, says he was not surprised by the misinformation being shared after spending years challenging pseudoscience through his role as president of a group called Glasgow Skeptics. However, he warns that misinformation got even worse during COVID, and although Facebook claimed it was cracking down, only one of the groups had been closed. Eggo believes some people were scammers while others were “true believers.”
“I think a lot of people are going to think ‘what’s the harm of rolling the dice?’ if my conventional treatment isn’t going to help me survive?” Eggo says in an online video. “The bigger risk, though, is the people who may have a good prognosis with conventional treatment, who don’t take up that treatment because the alternative is more alluring.”
“And let’s be honest, chemotherapy is brutal,” the husband and father continues. “Laura had radiotherapy every day for 25 days. She’s generally recovering well, but that’s not fun.”
“Someone online recommended me a book about curing cancer with carrots – by juicing and eating carrots. I mean, that sounds much less traumatic than chemotherapy.”
Brian joined dozens of Facebook groups and posted the same message in each, explaining that his wife had breast cancer and asking whether group members would recommend conventional or alternative therapies. Alongside more mundane recommendations to cut out sugar or avoid underwired bras, some advised that Laura should drink her own urine or rub it onto her skin.
Brian also received “lots of recommendations for fenbendazole” — a de-wormer for dogs, cats, horses, and cows.
“This has been going around since before people started recommending ivermectin for COVID – they’ve been recommending fenbendazole for cancer,” Brian explains. “But I was recommended ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as well – the ‘COVID panaceas’ were recommended for cancer too.”
“There were recommendations for miracle mineral supplement (MMS) which is essentially a bleach solution that will supposedly cure malaria, Aids, cancer, autism,” the 49-year-old adds. “Unfortunately, there are some well-meaning but deluded parents who are giving their autistic children bleach enemas in order to try to cure their autism – it’s horrific.”
“There were lots of recommendations for my wife to stop doing things,” Brian notes. “One quack site said that all cooked food is poison and said she should follow a raw vegan diet. There was already a significant alternative health movement before COVID came along, but discontent breeds the desire to go looking for other things.”
“Anybody who’s had some gripes about how the government have run things and doubts about modern medicine could easily be swayed,” Laura’s husband says. “We were lucky – my wife’s prognosis was good and it’s much easier to be rational when that’s the case.”
According to Eggo, one group pushed a “black salve,” an ointment known as Cansema. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated this a “fake cancer cure.” The paste, first developed to treat skin lesions in the early 1900s, actually destroys skin tissue.
“It would be nice if the NHS (U.K.’s National Health Service) and the oncologists warned you about these online predators, but I don’t think they’ve got the time or inclination to do that,” Brian says. “Anything we can do to educate the general population and make them aware of the amount of quackery and scams that are out there the better, I think.”
Facebook says it will “take action” on groups that “repeatedly share health misinformation.” To date, none of the groups reported have been closed down.
“We remove dangerous health misinformation that’s likely to directly contribute to imminent harm,” a spokesman for Facebook says in a statement to SWNS. “We also direct people searching for health information to authoritative sources, including cancer charities.”
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- 1 in 3 cancer articles on social media contain harmful misinformation
- People who trust TV news and Facebook end up less informed about COVID-19
- Tiny implant cures mice of breast cancer in just 2 weeks, study says
South West News Service writer Sarah Ward and Helen McArdle contributed to this report.