Bogus Cancer Cures

Reprinted from
Nostrums and Quackery:
Articles on the Nostrum Evil and Quackery
(American Medical Association, 1911)

"Every advertisement of a 'cancer cure' cloaks a swindle." If the public could once realize the truth of this statement the quacks who engage in this line of charlatanry would quickly find their occupation gone. The various advertised "cures" for cancer may be divided into two classes: First, those that consist of mildly tonic drugs to be taken internally in conjunction with weak antiseptic washes to be applied externally; and, second; those in which a "paste" or "poultice" containing some strong caustic, is applied to the ulcerating surface. The "cures" belonging to the first class are absolutely worthless, and, while not in themselves dangerous, are vicious in that the patient is likely to rely on a valueless remedy until the cancer has reached a point where no treatment will avail. 'The caustic pastes, on the other hand, are sometimes used by reputable physicians in carefully selected cases of superficial (skin) cancer. Even in such cases and under the daily personal supervision of a physician the escharotic (caustic) treatment is uncertain and unreliable. When the patient is "treated" through the mail by means of these burning pastes, which he has to apply himself, the treatment is not only unreliable and painful but positively dangerous. The possibility of the caustic eroding a blood-vessel is by no means a remote one.

All "cancer cure" quacks have a liberal supply of "testimonials" with which to catch the unwary. Many of these testimonials are fraudulent while others are written by individuals who hare merely convinced themselves that they have cancer and who, on receiving some real or imaginary benefit from the nostrums, write that they have been "cured." Of the things which the quack needs in his business, testimonials are the easiest and least expensive to obtain.

During the past year or two the United States postal authorities havedone the public great service by declaring fraudulent and denying the use of the mails to a number or "cancer cure" concerns. Much credit is due the department and especially to Judge n. P. Goodwin, assistant attorney-general to the postmaster-general. Valuable assistance has been rendered by the Bureau of Chemistry through Dr. H. W. Wiley, its chief: and Dr. L. F. Kebler, chief of the Division of Drugs.

Many of the following articles are based on Judge Goodwin's reports, the facts as recorded being freely quoted or abstracted. They appeared either in full or in a condensed form in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

This page was posted on April 8, 2007.

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