Intended for healthcare professionals


Is cancer fundraising fuelling quackery?

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 12 September 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k3829
  1. Melanie Newman, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. melanienewman999{at}

Crowdfunding sites are helping people with advanced cancer spend thousands of pounds on unproved and alternative treatments. Melanie Newman examines calls to help ensure patients and their donors are not being exploited

Doctors face difficult conversations with patients with metastatic cancer for whom NHS treatment has failed. A growing problem is how to advise patients who opt to pursue expensive, experimental treatments in the private sector, including orthodox therapies given in unproved combinations and doses but also alternative therapies with no evidence behind their use. The BMJ today publishes figures that show how crowdfunding for alternative cancer therapies has soared in recent years (tables 1 and 2). The figures, collected by the Good Thinking Society, a charity that promotes scientific thinking, show that since 2012 appeals on UK crowdfunding sites for cancer treatment with an alternative health element have raised £8m (€9m; $10m). Most of this was for treatment abroad.

View this table:
Table 1

Total raised by GoFundMe and JustGiving by country of clinic or treatment up to 1 July 2018

View this table:
Table 2

Amount raised by date fundraiser was opened

JustGiving’s own figures show more than 2300 UK cancer related appeals were set up on its site in 2016, a sevenfold rise on the number for 2015.

The phenomenon has allowed less well-off patients to access expensive, experimental treatments that are not funded by the NHS but have some evidence of benefit. But many fear it has also opened up a new and lucrative revenue stream for cranks, charlatans, and conmen who prey on the vulnerable.

The society’s project director, Michael Marshall, says: “We are concerned that so many UK patients are raising huge sums for treatments which are not evidence based and which in some cases may even do them harm.”

Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been crowdfunded for UK patients’ treatment at the …

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