My inbox exploded this week with messages asking about a widely circulated news story claiming that researchers had found the cure for cancer. My heart sunk. And then I got mad.

It began with an article in the Jerusalem Post story headlined, “A Cure for Cancer? Israeli Scientists Say They Think They Found One.” It opened with a rosy quote from Dan Aridor, the board chairman of biotech company AEBi: “We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer.”

It didn’t take long for the story to catch fire. Soon every news feed seemed to be flush with similar versions from multiple outlets, which were shared over and over again across the internet.

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I lost my husband to cancer and now run a patient advocacy organization, so I knew intimately why people were reaching out. Like them, I desperately wanted to believe that the news was true. But the skeptic in me knew it probably was an exaggeration, prompting me to explore various iterations in an effort to look beyond inflammatory statements and misleading quotes.

The complete — and disappointing — picture wasn’t all that hard to figure out. Buried in the very last paragraph of the original story was this critical sentence: “AEBi is on the cusp of beginning a round of clinical trials which could be completed within a few years and would make the treatment available in specific cases.”

Translation: AEBi is trying to come up with funding so it can launch a round of clinical trials. Those trials could be completed within a few years. Assuming the initial trials show success, treatments might become available for some cancers.

Looking at it that way makes the initial claim of “a cure in one year” seem dubious, if not downright false.

If the Jerusalem Post and other news outlets that carried the story had looked beyond their quest for hype, the headline would have been “A theory that might lead to a curative therapy for some cancer patients perhaps in the next decade.”

But that’s not exciting. Heck, it’s not even news. Promising research is going on in labs all over the world, and little of it makes the news.

Which begs the question: Why was the story written in the first place? Promising research? Maybe. Breaking news? No. A near-term cure for cancer? Not even close.

I wonder if the reporter gave any thought to how this sort of story would be received by people with cancer for whom this sort of news, if legitimate, could be lifesaving.

I watched throughout the week as cancer patients, fighting for their lives, shared the story over and over again. Some were skeptical, but others were so full of hope that it was painful to see, especially when they began to realize that their hopes had been cruelly raised in the name of generating a little extra web traffic.

Parading false hope to desperate people is cruel. But the damage of stories like this goes deeper than that. Two years ago, my organization, KCCure, conducted a survey of 450 individuals with kidney cancer. The results, published last week in the journal Frontiers in Oncology, showed that more than 70 percent were frustrated with their care. Fear was the number one driver of frustration. The second most common? Distrust in the medical care system.

Inflated stories that exaggerate the beneficial effects of treatment or that hype cures deepen that sense of mistrust and shake the already fragile confidence that desperate patients have in our health care system, leading them to question even the best evidence-based science. Who can blame them for doubting when it’s not always clear if a source can be trusted. When life and death decisions are being made, patients can’t afford that kind of doubt.

Thankfully, multiple outlets have begun course corrections, walking back claims from earlier stories. Cancer experts have added their voices to the growing chorus, attempting to set the record straight. But you can’t undo the damage that’s already been done. No matter how many times we attempt to sweep them up, the crumbs of viral misinformation will continue to circulate.

Cancer patients need and deserve accurate and honest information — from doctors, researchers, biotech CEOs, and the media. Reporters may benefit from more clicks on a story, but patients suffer.

This kind of inflammation feeds the cancer of false hopes.

Dena Battle is the president and co-founder of KCCure, a patient advocacy organization dedicated to increasing research in kidney cancer. As a patient advocate, she has received compensation and honoraria from several pharmaceutical companies.

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  • This is one reason why organizations like http://www.HealthNewsReview.org were created – to combat the medical news hype. Unfortunately, sustainability of these types of sites is difficult as is shown by the recent end to the 13-year career of this site. We must hold journalists and media accountable for hyped up articles used to generate clicks and false hope for people suffering from disease.

  • I would like to make an open statement to the medical community.
    What passes for “medical science” murdered my mother. She died at 69 from the “treatment” given to her by so-called “modern medicine” for her lung cancer. To be sure, in perhaps the most important way, she killed herself. Smoking for 50 years will do that. However…
    My mother was undergoing a promising treatment that was, in fact, working to shrink her tumors. However, radiation began to burn her esophagus, and even after complaining about discomfort, they ignored her and continued to irradiate her until her esophagus was so burned she could no longer eat, drink, or swallow. It took WEEKS for her to be able to eat and drink again, and the experience wrought upon her by the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center literally scared her away from further treatments. Had they only listened…

    There’s a reason they call it a “medical practice”. Language means something. The hubris of doctors is so amazing, their egos literally fill any space they occupy. No patient knows anything. You read something on the internet? Pish-posh, I’m a doctor, and THESE are the ACCEPTED TREATMENTS. Even in the FACE OF THEIR FAILURE, and his own mother died of cancer as well, they continue to profess faith in their “treatment”. The trouble is the most important lesson in their medical training, that of basic physiology like the Krebs cycle, goes forgotten after year 1 of med school, and the ICD10 becomes the salesman’s bible for hocking so-called treatments, instead of their own common sense.

    Cancer is a result of the human immune system failing in some way to take care of that which it otherwise has EVERY capability of dealing with. Instead of treating the cause of the body’s broken ability to cure cancer itself, they give patients a cocktail of radiation (yes, radiation CAUSES cancer, so only someone so inflated with their own ego can see this has a treatment instead of a destruction of living viable tissue), chemo (chemo kills the body’s immune system…which, NOT coincidentally, is why they have developed cancer in the FIRST place), and drugs to abate the symptoms caused by the destructive nature of their “treatment”.

    If you’re a doctor, you attended 8 years of college and 4 years of residency to hear to supposedly help people. You’re not. You have become a Shill for the pharmaceutical industry. There is NO WAY that anyone, with a logical and reasoning mind, can HONESTLY believe that giving people with cancer radiation and chemo HELPS THEM. You’re only TOLD that it helps by the people selling $1500 a gram treatments. You can SEE that it fails. You WATCH your own patients, even at times your own FAMILY, DIE from your treatments. You ignore the patients. You ignore their ideas. You ignore any information they bring if it falls ANYWHERE outside the “Standard treatment regimen”, especially if they read it on the internet. EVEN IF IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE FROM A PHYSIOLOGICAL STANDPOINT.

    Even if you say to a doctor something totally reasonable, like, “Say, Doc, doesn’t cancer metabolize energy anaerobically, and doesn’t cancer really like raw sugar? Should we switch to a low-sugar diet and start doing oxygen therapy to combat the cancer from a standpoint of it’s own metabolic process?”
    It’s “Who’s the doctor here? Where did you read that, the internet? Look I won’t stop you from doing what you want to do, but in my care this is the treatment.”

    Yes, that is very very close to an actual conversation I had with a doctor regarding my mother’s treatment. Attack the cancer using the body’s own Krebs cycle? Nooo, that’s CHEAP. Oxygen? Cheap. Hydrogen Peroxide? Cheap. Curcumin? Cheap. Colloidal silver? Cheap. Carrots, broccoli, juicing? Never mind your own immune system, fool, we have CHEMO and RADIATION!

    And doctors talk about “positive attitudes” and “hope”. I’ll censor this as much as I can while trying not to pee off the mods, but…

    F**K HOPE. You don’t need a positive attitude. You don’t need hope. You need to fix in your body, via nutrition, exercise, stopping exposure to chemicals which CAUSE cancer (fluoride in the water, anyone? Don’t believe? Read the Sodium Fluoride MSDS. It’s available everywhere) and heal yourself with the built-in mechanisms. Because lord knows, modern medicine does nothing to cure cancer.

    It makes money. It fills beds. It keeps people sick and provides a huge modifier for the GDP. It MURDERS people like my mom, leaving her to suffer and waste away, while her loved ones look on helpless to do anything.

    But it does NOTHING to cure cancer.

    • It was with great interest I read this. I have lost three very dear friends to breast cancer that had metastatized. It can be such a cruel disease. These were women with means, great insurance who underwent chemo and radiation. I have a friend who took me to the ED for sudden onset knee pain with no injury that frightened me. During the ride she was playing a tape where the speaker/author was talking exactly what you were. She is a two time cancer survivor, she had been a heavy smoker from the time she was 8 years old, she is now 77. She refused chemo for the initial breast cancer opting for a double mastectomy with reconstruction and radiation, those two modalities worked…until the cancer returned in one of her lungs. Again she refused chemo going only with radiation. It worked until recently and she was found to have cancer in the other lung right near her diaphragm, making the radiation difficult to pinpoint because of her breathing and the initial 3 radiation treatments turned to 5. She had the last treatment a couple of days ago, ranging the bell in the oncologist’s office. We are praying it works like the first two bouts. She learned yesterday that small scab on her nose was also cancer but not melanoma. It seems undergoing chemo and radiation completely deplete the body of everything it needs to try to help itself. Are more people developing cancer? My brother had his right kidney removed due to cancer. It was self contained in the removed kidney and did not require chemo nor radiation. My daughter, my former daughter in law and my sister in law all had skin cancer that required surgery to clean the offending tissue off. It appears more and more people seem to be developing this disease. All the chemicals we take in via food, breathe in from who knows what crap we now breathe and probably exposure to the soap, shampoo, lotions, perfumes even hair dye plays a role in some patients. Man is quickly destroying the planet and himself with everything we put in our bodies that has names most of us can’t even pronounce. I am so sorry about your mother and her ordeal. Short of leaving our homes and environment and living off the land, using only what nature provides, it appears more and more people will be battling cancer in its many forms and at some point the planet will have become special polluted and those who live on this planet will eventually kill themselves off. I am not one who usually talks doom and gloom but what you wrote rings so true.

  • Thank you for sharing this with us. It is very cruel and irresponsible to be giving people this misleading information regarding cancer or any other cures. Thank you for the work you do.

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