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Fam Med. 2002 Jul-Aug;34(7):522-7.

Herbal cancer cures on the Web: noncompliance with The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.

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Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, Calif 92037, USA.



A significant portion of the US population uses the Internet to obtain health information; nearly half of Internet users admit that this information influences decisions about their health care and medical treatments. Concurrently, approximately one third of the population uses herbal supplements; a higher percentage is noted for subgroups of cancer patients. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 contained regulatory standards for herbal supplements, including restricting any claims for disease prevention, treatment, or cure. This study determined the degree of compliance with the DSHEA, as applied to Internet sites focusing on the subject of herbal supplements and cancer.


Internet searches were conducted using six popular search engines and three master search engines in October-December 2000 using the linked terms herb and cancer. The Internet sites identified through this search process were examined for categories of information including claims regarding prevention, treatment, or cure; commercial nature; DSHEA and physician consultation warnings; country of origin; and use of research and testimonials. Additionally, commercial sites were reviewed to identify tactics used to promote products or services.


Each of the six primary search engines provided between 11,730 and 58,605 matches for herb and cancer. Further cross matching with the three master search engines identified 70 non-repeating sites that appeared on all three master search engines. Of these 70 sites, nine were irrelevant matches or no longer functioning. Of the remaining 61, 34 (54%) were commercial sites (CS) and 27 (42.8%) were noncommercial sites (NCS). Of the CS surveyed, prevention, treatment, and cure were discussed 92%, 89%, and 58%, respectively. CS provided testimonials, physician consultation recommendations, and DSHEA warnings 89%, 38.8%, and 36.1% of the time, respectively. CS provided research with references 30.6% of the time versus 92.6% of the time in NCS. All international commercial sites surveyed claimed herbal cancer cures.


Although the DSHEA was enacted and amended to decrease unlawful claims of disease prevention, treatment, and cure, the results of this study indicate that such claims are prevalent on commercial Internet sites. A majority of sites claim cancer cures through herbal supplementation with little regardfor current regulations, and such claims were more common on sites operated from outside the United States.

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