Radical measures to protect the public from fake cancer treatments are under review by the Government, The Telegraph can reveal.
A cross-party coalition of MPs has united in a bid to overhaul the 81-year-old Act of Parliament that authorities currently rely upon to police against deadly cancer-cure propaganda.
The Telegraph understands ministers have discussed expanding the Cancer Act 1939 on numerous fronts – including the policing of medically unproven diagnostics, the prohibition of dangerous treatments, and tighter crackdowns on social media posts.
MPs across the political divide have joined forces over fears that a backlog in cancer treatments during the Covid-19 crisis will lead to an uptick in people seeking dangerous alternative treatments.
Modernisation of the Act will prove to be a “great weapon” in the fight to protect vulnerable and gravely ill people, said Conservative MP Anthony Browne.
“The advertisement of treatments is currently outlawed, so it makes sense to tighten and expand the act to include the actual treatments and diagnostics themselves,” the member for South Cambridgeshire said.
“I have engaged the Health Secretary on this.”
Mr Browne said that he was stirred into action following a confidential letter he received from the relative of a constituent who had died following the use of fake cancer treatments.
The letter, listing the dangerous treatments sold and the regulatory changes needed to prohibit them, has been shared with Mr Hancock.
A newly released BBC documentary details a number of individuals who have died following the usage of bogus treatments.
“The Department of Health needs to review legislation around alternative cancer treatments in light of these deaths,” said Mr Browne.
The nation’s Law Commissioner for Criminal Law, Penney Lewis, has said that moves to lower the threshold of criminality for online posts containing fake claims about both cancer and coronavirus treatments are under review.
Shadow Culture Minister Chris Matheson told The Telegraph that new legislative reforms could help protect the country amid an avalanche of social media propaganda.
“The Cancer Act is a fantastic piece of legislation but we know that strengthening and broadening will save lives,” he said.
“I am due to meet with constituents in the coming days who know about the pain of losing a loved one after taking deadly fake cancer treatments.
“The loss of such lives makes me upset and angry – it focuses my determination to help tighten the act and outlaw dodgy practitioners, treatments and diagnostics.
“The cross-party move to bolster the Cancer Act will save British lives – I know my part is relevant because any departments dealing with culture, data or social media are hugely relevant in this battle.”
A Department of Health and Social Care told this newspaper that the law was “under review” and that further action will be taken if deemed necessary.
“The Government is clear that we will do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable people,” a spokesperson said.
“We will not tolerate the false advertising of alternative cancer treatments, and will ensure penalties are handed for any breaches of the current law.
“We continue to keep this law under review and will take further action if we deem it necessary.”
Under the Cancer Act the publication of advertisements relating to the sales of bogus treatments is punishable by up to three months’ imprisonment.
Former Harley Street practitioner Errol Denton hit the headlines in 2013 when he was prosecuted.
Court proceedings revealed that Denton charged sick patients £650 for consultations – boasting that he could cure their cancer with herbs and blood analysis.
Westminster City Council slammed his behaviour as “twisted” and “immoral”.
Denton was found guilty on nine clauses of the Act and was forced to pay fines totalling £19,000.
The Government noted that the Cancer Act was strengthened in 2008 to enable prosecutions to proceed without the initial consultation of the Attorney General, and that while the Act was now being reviewed it did not currently have any plans to make changes.
Labour MP Barbara Keeley, who announced earlier this year that she was battling breast cancer, said that the Cancer Act needs updating immediately, following fresh exposure of loopholes in the legislation.
The health and social care select committee member said: “The Cancer Act prevents cancer treatments being advertised, but it has failed to prevent private providers using misleading claims to market their services.
“It is clear that this law needs updating for the digital age, where disinformation can rapidly spread unchecked online.”
The MP noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic many people have had their cancer scans delayed, and that some private healthcare providers were “preying” on cancer patients’ need for reassurance.
She noted that the issue of unreliable cancer tests being sold to private patients had been flagged but that the Government has failed to crack down on the practice.
The Telegraph first warned of the need for changes to the Cancer Act as far back as 2015.
An undercover investigation by the newspaper filmed practitioners telling cancer sufferers they could be cured with treatments that medical experts warned were “extremely dangerous”.
These included a salt treatment for lung cancer, a highly caustic salve solution for throat and skin cancers, and the use of industrial-strength bleach to treat autism and HIV.
The sting exposed the deadly claim and the Cancer Act then enabled local authorities to shut down the event.
Then-chairwoman of the health select committee, Sara Wollaston, had warned readers that the Cancer Act was “critically important” but that an overhaul was needed because penalties and prosecutions were “insufficient”.
Five years later, Dr Wollaston now welcomes the latest developments.
Dr Wollaston said: “The Cancer Act is a crucial piece of legislation and it was designed to save lives.
“The fact that improvements are now in motion is a hugely important step, modernisation – more than 80 years on from its creation – will help stop people taking advantage of vulnerable cancer patients.
“When I was in Parliament I highlighted the importance of the Cancer Act and the need for the legislation to be updated because of the way unscrupulous individuals and organisations were able to exploit loopholes.
“The Telegraph has a proud history of exposing dangerous alternative cancer treatments and the practitioners involved, their focus on amending the Cancer Act over recent years has been important.”
Maria Eagle, MP for Garston and Halewood, said that improving the Cancer Act could prevent the most vulnerable people in society from being targeted by online propaganda.
She added: “The 1939 Cancer Act is a key piece of legislation and it clearly needs updating for modern times.
“I will play a part in pressing the Government to update this law.
“Banning adverts that contain misinformation is as important as ever but propaganda is now circulated freely online.
“Facebook groups have a lot of influence and that needs to be addressed.
“I’m aware of other MPs like Anthony Browne who have raised the issue with the Health Secretary and I plan to support their cross-party efforts.”
The news was welcomed by pro-science charities.
Director of The Good Thinking Society, Michael Marshall, said:
“The Government needs to act now to strengthen and update the Cancer Act.
“It is a powerful tool for protecting vulnerable patients but its current limitations see lives jeopardised by the dangerous claims of the alternative cancer ‘cure’ industry.”
Mother was victim of unscrupulous medical practitioner
In late December 2012, Dr Julian Kenyon told a supposed cancer patient that a soundwave light bed treatment could successfully kill tumour cells in eight out of 10 late-stage cancer sufferers.
The doctor did not realise that he was talking to an undercover reporter who had been filming his every word.
Kenyon was subsequently hauled in front of a fitness-to-practice panel; it was found that this claim and others had brought his profession into disrepute.
The year before the undercover sting, Dr Kenyon treated Arabella Vanneck.
Mrs Vanneck twice received sono photo dynamic therapy (SPDT) at Kenyon’s Hampshire-based Dove Clinic.
She died nine months after her final treatment session.
Arabella left behind five children and her husband, Joshua Vanneck.
Mr Vanneck said: “After the most wonderful care from the NHS, we were told that there was no further treatment available.
“Arabella was still keen to look for options, and it was then that she fell under the influence of Dr Kenyon.
“She was given a spiel about Russian technology and about a fluorescent dye that would be injected and then bombarded with ultraviolet light.
“It was all gumph.”
Regulators had been previously warned that the Dove clinic was promoting such treatment – with one medical expert noting it was “impossible” that deep-seated tumours could be reached by the light.
“What I did not know was that Dr Kenyon was also going to dabble in chemotherapy, with a particularly caustic cyclophosphamide.
“He also prescribed very high levels of steroids – neither of which had anything to do with his spiel about Russian fluorescent dyes.
“As soon as Arabella deteriorated, it became difficult to get Dr Kenyon to give any post-treatment care.
“In the end it was our own wonderful GP who checked her array of pills, and decided to stop most of them immediately.”
Joshua Vanneck says that he would “heartily support” moves to broaden Cancer Act legislation.
He told The Telegraph that new measures could help prevent other families from suffering what his own has been through.
His suggestions include a “whitewashing” of pseudoscience-based cancer remedies from the internet and greater scrutiny of the doctors operating alternative medicine clinics.
“The web is a great opportunity to help keep the public informed.
“But at the moment the con-artist exploitation of the vulnerable is actually gaining ground.
“No profession should allow this to happen.
“The Cancer Act should be broadened to protect families like mine.”
Documentary spotlights false hope given to cancer patients
The deaths of Linda Halliday and Sean Walsh are spotlighted in a new BBC documentary, False Hope.
Relatives of the victims claim that their loved ones might still be alive today if they had not used fake cancer treatments.
Sean Walsh was just 18 years old when he was first diagnosed with cancer.
After conventional medical treatment, his cancer went into remission.
When it returned, just two years later, Sean decided that he would try to cure the cancer with alternative methods – including coffee enemas and cannabis oil.
Sean’s mother, Dawn, claims that a random encounter with a homeopath, Phil Hughes, influenced her son’s opinion about the chemotherapy treatment that had previously saved his life.
Sean relied on thermography scans at Medical Thermal Imaging, the clinic owned by Phil and his wife Rosa, to check on the progress of his cancer.
Medical experts have warned that these types of scans are unsuitable for reliable cancer detection.
Undercover BBC footage reveals Rosa Hughes telling a patient that mammograms risked squashing and bursting tumours.
Rosa also claimed that refusing a biopsy of her own breast lump “saved her life because it didn’t spread it”.
Dawn Walsh claims that the Hughes’ did not warn her son about the inadequacies of thermographic cancer detection.
“They scaremonger people about NHS scans, saying the dye they inject you with feeds the cancer and the radiation spreads it.
“They run a business built around a lie, we need this to stop and get justice for Sean, Linda and all the other people they have lied to.”
Sean’s girlfriend, Aimee McDonald, said that thermography scans “must be banned” and that people are dying because of them.
She welcomed potential new legislation, saying that had it been in place four years ago Sean might still be alive.
“I would like to see MPs work towards outlawing homeopathy,” she said.
Linda Halliday died at the age of 69, just three years after she was first diagnosed with cancer.
Her daughter, Lorna, says that her mother was given a “really good” chance of survival if she had used conventional medical treatments.
Instead, Linda started taking a range of alternative treatments, including mistletoe, iscador and potentially deadly black salve.
She also tracked her cancer’s progress using thermography scans at Medical Thermal Imaging, which Lorna says gave her false hope about the size of tumour growth.
“It is astounding that the alternative therapists involved in Mum’s case are all still practicing, potentially putting more vulnerable patients at risk.
“At present, the Cancer Act only applies to advertising cures or treatments for cancer – it doesn’t apply to advertising diagnostic tests such as thermography, and it doesn’t apply to carrying out these treatments and diagnostics.
“The government needs to do more to prevent future unnecessary deaths from occurring.”