“It's entirely understandable that people when in a health crisis might turn to clinics that make big promises and might find it hard to doubt their miraculous claims,” Marshall told IFLScience.
Perhaps more important, Marshall argues, is the huge role the media plays in “inadvertently promoting and proliferating these false claims.” Many of these treatments are administered by clinics overseas where regulations may be laxer. These treatment centers don’t typically publish data on how effective their therapies are, and instead rely on testimonials of former patients who may not be fully informed.
“Those testimonials – along with the positive media coverage they generate – serve as an advertising tool, but there is seldom any follow-up,” explained Marshall. “Our investigation, in part, performs that follow-up, and we found that more than a third of the patients who seek alternative cancer cures via fundraising appeals subsequently died – usually with a fraction of the attention and coverage that their miracle cure story was afforded.”
Marshall says a good rule of thumb is to follow the advice of qualified medical experts and look for consensus.
“If a treatment is fringe or is rejected by the majority of doctors, there's usually a very good reason for that. If a treatment makes big promises that mainstream medical professionals do not agree with, then it is probably wise to approach it with extreme caution,” he said.
According to the investigation, GoFundMe says it is “taking proactive steps” in the US to make sure its users are better informed. However, JustGiving says it doesn’t believe the platform has “the expertise to make a judgment.”