‘Cancer cures’ spread on social media still thriving despite government pledge

Former model Irena Stoynova
Former model Irena Stoynova almost died after trying to treat her cancer with a diet of juice, boiled herbs and special teas - JONATHAN BRADY/PA

Social media giants and online trading businesses continue to benefit from cancer “cures”, years after ministers pledged to crack down on the practice.

Searches for “cancer cure” on Instagram are helping businesses that market unproven treatments, including an online herbal company which promotes its treatment as “better” than chemotherapy.

Other posts on social media sites claimed that the soursop fruit, found in the Caribbean and North and South America, is “10,000 times” stronger than chemotherapy, while another claimed that Brazilian tree bark is “scientifically proven to kill cancer cells” including “brain, pancreas, ovarian and prostate”.

The posts were made from an account promoting a private club containing information about blood types with monthly fees of up to £17 a month.

Another lead Instagram return for “cancer cure” was the promotion of a book that encourages patients to use a treatment of cloves, black walnut and wormwood to “cure all cancers”.

Meanwhile, one account on TikTok said that everyone who had used their product had been “totally cleared” of cancer and leukaemia within three months. The item is sold via a website hyperlinked on TikTok and retails for £156.

Searches for 'cancer cure'
Searches for 'cancer cure' on Instagram are promoting businesses that sell unproven, and potentially harmful, treatments

Irena Stoynova, 39, a former model, said that she was duped by false online information and nearly lost her life in an attempt to cure her cancer on a juice diet.

Medics tried to get Ms Stoynova to use conventional cancer treatments after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2021, but she “shut them out”.

The former model said instead of chemotherapy, she sought alternatives online and took the advice of a man, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and claims the human body can “heal itself” with the help of a radical lifestyle and diet changes.

Ms Stoynova, from Crondall in Hampshire, followed various diets and holistic therapies for two-and-a-half years, which left her emaciated with fluid in her lungs.

Doctors said she was on the verge of death when she was taken to Frimley Park Hospital by ambulance in May last year and spent 50 days in the hospital’s acute dependency unit.

Irena Stoynova
Irena Stoynova warned other cancer patients about 'cutting out' traditional treatments and instead using alternative methods, which ultimately put her in intensive care unit at Frimley Park Hospital - IRENA STOYNOVA/PA

Four years ago the government said that the Cancer Act 1939 was “under review” to police the promotion of treatment.

Prof Karol Sikora, former director of the World Health Organisation’s Cancer Program, told The Telegraph: “People with cancer are emotionally very vulnerable and many fake treatments seem plausible.

“It’s all related to miracle cures, but if they worked oncologists would be using them. Promoting these treatments is illegal, but as you can see from what is out there it’s not effectively policed.”

He added that the Cancer Act is currently “obsolete”.

Justin Stebbing, a Prof of Biomedical Sciences at ARU in Cambridge, said: “Vulnerable cancer patients are being taken advantage of and money is being made by the promotion of false, and potentially deadly treatments.”

“The legislation is in place to prevent fake cancer treatment claims but it is not being used.

“The government should act and in my view companies who control the distribution of content should have both a moral and legal reason to police fake content. What I’ve seen is frightening and dangerous.”

These products claim to help cure several types of cancer
These products claim to help cure several types of cancer

A Government spokesman said: “We do not tolerate the false advertising of alternative cancer treatments and will ensure penalties are handed out for any breaches of the law.

“We expect platforms to act swiftly and to take action where appropriate on worrying trends in content on their platforms. If users are concerned about content they are viewing online, they should follow reporting processes set out by online platforms.”

A TikTok spokesman said that their community guidelines make clear that they “do not allow inaccurate, misleading, or false content that may cause significant harm to individuals or society, regardless of intent” and that “this includes medical misinformation”.

The company stated that they have now reviewed the terms flagged to The Telegraph and removed several videos that violate their guidelines.

Instagram said it has built the “largest global fact-checking network of any platform” and that when a piece is flagged by checkers they “reduce the content’s distribution in Feed, filter it out of Explore on Instagram, and feature it less prominently in Feed and Stories”.