Covering Alternative Cancer Stories

The BMJ’s report on fundraisers for alternative cancer treatments highlights media coverage as one of the key drivers in the money being raised to fund ineffective cancer therapies. According to the BMJ’s report:

Newspaper and TV reports on people with cancer drive donors to the crowdfunding sites, sometimes attracting the attention of celebrities, who boost funds. They also encourage others to seek the same treatment.

Many stories follow a familiar narrative: a tragic patient, with everything to live for, is on the mend after “miracle” treatment denied them by the NHS. Gemma Nuttall is one example. The Daily Mail and ITV reported the young mother was now “cancer free” in February 2018, a few months after treatment at the Hallwang clinic, which was funded in part by film star Kate Winslet. Sadly, a recent update on Gemma’s GoFundMe page said the cancer had returned. This has not been reported.

While no journalist would want to put their readers in harm’s way by promoting ineffective treatments for serious health conditions, this is a format of story that many newspapers have followed in the past: of more than the 540 appeals identified in our investigation, 23 gained positive coverage in the local or national media.

We understand how engaging and interesting these stories can be, but we also believe journalists would only want to publish stories that are accurate and responsible.

If journalists want to avoid inadvertently promoting something potentially harmful, our advice is to talk to a medical professional or charity who can advise as to whether the treatment being sought is a valid cancer treatment, or not. If they are unable to find out what treatments are being fundraised for, or if there is no independent corroboration that those treatments are effective, Good Thinking would be happy to help find contacts with medical qualifications who can help provide expert advice.

Journalists looking to discuss this can contact for more information.