Consumer Health Digest #06-35
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 19, 2006
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
"Alternative" cancer treatments fail to stop cancer progression. Researchers have found that cancer patients who chose "alternative" therapies instead of standard treatment tended to have increased recurrence and death. The analysis included 33 patients:
- Of 11 who initially refused surgery, 10 developed disease progression.
- Of 3 who refused adequate lymph node sampling, 1 developed nodal recurrence.
- Of 10 who refused local control procedures, 2 developed local recurrences and 2 died of metastatic disease.
- By refusing chemotherapy, 9 patients increased their estimated 10-year mortality rate from 17% to 25%.
The authors concluded: "Alternative therapies used as primary treatment for breast cancer are associated with increased recurrence and death. Homeopathy instead of surgery resulted in disease progression in most patients." [Chang EY and others. Outcomes of breast cancer in patients who use alternative therapies as primary treatment. American Journal of Surgery 192:471-473, 2006]
Q-Ray marketers hit with huge penalty. The federal district court in Chicago has sided with the Federal Trade Commission in its case against the marketers of the Q-Ray "ionized" bracelet. During the trial, the device's promoter Que Te (Andrew) Park testified that he could not define the term "ionization" but picked it because it was simple and easy to remember. The court concluded:
- Advertising by Park and his companies (Q-Ray Company, and Bio-Metal, Inc.) had falsely advertised that the bracelet provides immediate, significant, and/or complete pain relief, and that scientific tests proved that it relieves pain.
- Although the advertising described the Q-Ray bracelet as “ionized,”there was no evidence that the bracelet has any properties different from any other bracelet made of the same metals.
- Park's testimony on ionization was "contradictory and full of obfuscation. . . He is a clever marketer but a poor witness."
- The Q-Ray bracelet was marketed as an ‘ionized bracelet’ as part of a scheme . . . to defraud consumers . . . by preying on their desire to find a simple solution to alleviate their physical pain.
- The retail prices for the bracelets ($49.95 to $249.95) were more than six times what they cost to produce.
- The defendants also advertised their refund policy deceptively.
From September 2000 through June 2003, the Q-Ray bracelet was advertised on infomercials shown on cable TV channels, such as the Golf Channel, the Learning Channel, USA Network, and the Discovery Channel, as well as on Web sites and at trade shows. Net sales to consumers, during the time the infomercials ran, were $87 million. Although the court has not yet issued a final judgment order, it stated that it will require the defendants to turn over $22.5 million in net profits and provide up to $64.5 million more in refunds to consumers who bought the bracelets during that time period. The court also stated that it will impose a permanent injunction to prevent them from engaging in such deceptive conduct in the future. The FTC has set up a hotline number, 202-326-2063, for consumers with questions about the court’s opinion and order. [Court rules in FTC's favor in Q-Ray bracelet case; orders defendants to pay up to $87 million. FTC news release, Sept 20, 2006]
In 2002, researchers at the Mayo Clinic reported that Q-Ray bracelets were no more effective than placebo bracelets at relieving muscular and joint pain. [Bratton RL and others. Effect of "ionized" wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 77:1164-1168, 2002] The judge noted that even if studies showed that the bracelets had a placebo effect, that would not justify pain-relief claims because for a placebo to work, “the consumer must be duped” and “the advertiser must trick the customer into believing that an inherently ineffective bracelet actually relieves pain.” The court's 136-page opinion is posted on Casewatch. Quackwatch has additional details.
Unconventional hyperthermia advocate disciplined. Haim Bicher, M.D., who operates the Valley Cancer Institute (VCI) in Los Angeles, was ordered to stop offering certain treatments unless they are administered as part of an IRB-approved approved treatment program. This is the third time that the Medical Board of California disciplined him. In 1995, he was placed on probation for five years, during which he must engage a practice monitor or participate in a professional enhancement program that includes periodic assessment of his work. The most recent board action began in July with an accusation of "gross negligence," "repeated negligent acts," "failure to maintain adequate and accurate medical records," and "dishonesty" in billings to Blue Cross of California. In July 2006, Bicher signed a stipulated settlement under which he admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to have his probationary period extended for two additional years. During this period, he must (a) complete an extensive training and assessment program and (b) refrain from using unconventional hyperthermia or radiation treatment protocols that do not have approval of an Institutional Review Board. VCI's Web site describes the VCI as "one of the largest non-profit hyperthermic research and patient treatment center in the USA."
Anti-spam help. To stop Web crawlers from harvesting addresses for use by spammers, Spam.Plan.com suggests (a) using forms that send messages without disclosing the sender's e-mail address or (b) using its encoder to generate e-mail addresses that are readable by humans but invisible to most Web crawlers. The site also describes an elaborate preventive strategy.
This page was posted on September 20, 2006.