Plan to ban ads suggesting medical treatment for cancer is unnecessary

Those who break the law could face imprisonment under Bill proposed by O’Connell

Kate O’Connell:  Under the proposed law, it would be an offence to suggest that a medical consultation, diagnosis, treatment or surgery is unnecessary for the treatment of cancer. Photograph:  Tom Honan

Kate O’Connell: Under the proposed law, it would be an offence to suggest that a medical consultation, diagnosis, treatment or surgery is unnecessary for the treatment of cancer. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Advertisements which suggest that medical treatment is unnecessary for the treatment of cancer will be banned under a new Bill being brought forward by a Government TD.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell will on Wednesday publish the Treatment of Cancer Advertisements Bill.

Under the proposed law, it would be an offence to suggest that a medical consultation, diagnosis, treatment or surgery is unnecessary for the treatment of cancer. Those who break the law could face imprisonment.

Ms O’Connell said the law is designed to protect vulnerable patients.

“It is something as a pharmacist I was aware was going on in that I was aware of a certain degree of false advertising in relation to cancer treatments. When I delved into it more I found there was a desire amongst the medical community as well as patients who have survived cancer to put some sort of protection in place for patients.

“In Ireland you have pharmacists and doctors regulated by their regulatory bodies, but for those people who fall outside the standard statutory regulations there is very little to prohibit them from advertising alternative treatments even if they have no qualifications at all.

Alternative treatments

“What we are hearing from patients is that the minute they are diagnosed with cancer, their social media feed and inboxes immediately start filling up with information on alternative treatments and treatments abroad which are outside the conventional tried and tested medicines.”

The alternative therapies include specialist diets and treatments which elevate the body temperatures to extremes.

Ms O’Connell said a key provision of the Bill is that it will not “hinder innovation or progress” in the area of cancer treatment.

The Irish Cancer Society has welcomed the publication of the Bill and said advertisements which offer services such as “miracle cures” can cause serious side effects for patients who are already ill.

Chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society Averil Power said: “We know from speaking with patients and their families and clinicians that ‘alternative’ cancer treatments, which are unproven or disproven, can be very damaging for patients and lead to worse treatment outcomes. Often these are marketed as miracle ‘cures’, but can be quite harmful and cause side effects that interfere with conventional cancer treatment recommended by consultants.

“When someone is diagnosed with a cancer, it can be a very vulnerable and confusing time that impacts not only on an individual’s life, but the lives of family and friends.

Misinformation

“There is a lot of information and misinformation available about treatment. This can be overwhelming and lead to people, in good faith, to pursue alternative treatments or specific diets. We recommend that patients seek information on treatment through trusted sources and qualified medical professionals. This Bill will help to make sure that patients are protected from false health claims and will make sure that any advertisement that suggests proven medical interventions or treatment are unnecessary will be prohibited.”

Ms Power said that the Irish Cancer Society has heard from many patients about such advertisements and these can have “serious consequences” for patients’ treatment and long-term recovery, she said. She called on other parties to support the Bill.

“Many advertisements for alternative and disproven therapies are very convincing, and are well-funded. The publication of this Bill is welcome news, and we hope all parties will support its contents which has real potential to protect patients and stop misinformation and false health claims which can have a damaging impact of the lives of patients and their families.”