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FDA busts myths of preventing cancer by eating apricot kernels, herbs, and other ingredients

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XRAYS:  Making Sense of Cancer Headlines

Maggie Fox (NBC News) writes about a new FDA report that warns of 14 "fraudulent” cancer products claiming to either cure or treat cancer (1). The companies that sell these products claim that many of them also prevent cancer, but are they safe or effective? (6/26/17)

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to 14 fraudulent cancer cure companies. Apricot kernels, herbs and other ingredients are the focus of Maggie Fox’s NBC News coverage of the FDA actions.  

A cancer diagnosis of an individual, family member or friend is challenging and can cause extreme distress; people diagnosed with cancer may be desperate to try anything and vulnerable to these companies’ claims to “cure” or “treat” cancer. The companies making these inaccurate are a danger and represent an injustice to the people they claim to help.  

FALSE CLAIM:  “If a person eats 6-12 apricot kernels per day, they will never have to worry about cancer.”

This false claim is advertised on one of the companies’ websites. Cancer patients and their families may be vulnerable and more willing to put skepticism aside if they hear or read that something can cure cancer. But these companies go further than that. According to a blog post written by the FDA’s Donald Ashley, JD and Douglas Stearn, JD, “These companies use slick ads, videos, and other sophisticated marketing techniques, including testimonials about miraculous outcomes. Often a single product was promoted as a treatment or cure for multiple diseases in humans and animals (2).”

However, these products have not been FDA tested. Claims that they cure or treat cancer are fake, and they are potentially dangerous. As Maggie Fox writes, “…’Everything Herbs’ was advertising apricot kernels, which contain deadly cyanide. Apricot seeds were the basis for amygdalin (laetrile), an unproven but popular “alternative” cancer therapy sold online and in overseas clinics since the 1970s, despite much evidence it is worthless.”

The FDA issued warning letters to 14 companies regarding their fraudulent claims about their products: AIE Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Amazing Sour Sop, Inc.; BioStar Technology International, LLC; Caudill Seed & Warehouse Inc.; DoctorVicks.com; Everything Herbs; Hawk Dok Natural Salve, LLC; Healing Within Products & Services, Inc.; LifeVantage Corporation; Nature’s Treasure, Inc.; Oxygen Health Systems, LLC; Sunstone, Inc.; The Vibrant Health Store, LLC (dba Dr. Christopher’s Herbs); and The Vitamin C Foundation (3).

What does this mean for you?

The FDA is responsible for “Protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, and medical devices.” Drug companies seeking FDA approval to sell a new drug are required to test it in many ways, from early experiments done a laboratory to seeing if the drug is safe and effective for use in humans.

Additionally, clinical guidelines have not been written for any of these products. As defined by the Institute of Medicine, clinical guidelines are “…systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances (4).” These guidelines are made after enough high-quality research studies are completed that support the use of the products in question. For example, many researchers and physicians from different academic institutions would have agree that eating 6-12 apricot kernels a day would prevent cancer for the guidelines to incorporate this practice.

Being diagnosed with cancer or experiencing a loved one going through cancer is difficult, and it is inappropriate, illegal and unethical for companies to promote products that have not been proven to be safe or effective. But because companies like these exist, cancer patients and their loved ones should be sure to confirm that the products or treatments they hear and read about are critically examined by trusted resources, such as the FDA and a person’s own health care providers.

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Fox M. “FDA Warns of 14 ‘Fraudulent’ Cancer Cure Companies.” NBC News. Published online first on April 25, 2017.

Ashley DD and Stearn D. “FDA Takes Action Against Fraudulent Cancer Products.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Published online first on April 25, 2017. 

FDA: Illegally Sold Cancer Treatments

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Practice Guidelines

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines

Related Information and Resources

Nutrition and Lifestyle: Diet and Nutrition

Nutrition and Lifestyle: Supplements

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