Consumer Health Digest #16-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 28, 2016

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Health Canada issues amygdalin warning. Health Canada is advising Canadians who purchased Novodalin B17 to stop using the product and contact their doctor for appropriate follow-up. It has also asked the marketers to stop selling it. The product, which is labeled to contain apricot kernel extract, may contain amygdalin, a compound that can release cyanide when ingested by humans. No health products containing B17 or amygdalin are authorized by Health Canada to treat cancer or any other condition, and no cancer treatment claims can be legally made for "natural health products." [Novodalin B17/amygdalin" being sold online poses serious risk to health. Health Canada Advisory, Feb 23, 2016] Food Standards Australia New Zealand banned the sale of apricot kernels last year. Amygdalin extracts (commonly referred to as laetrile) marketed as a cancer treatment were banned many years ago in the United States [Wilson B. The rise and fall of laetrile. Quackwatch, Jan 7, 2014], but apricot kernels and seeds are still available.

Health care advertising criticized. The New York Times has examined the harmful aspects of advertising by drug companies, hospitals, and clinics. [Rosenthal E. Ask your doctor if this ad is right for you. The New York Times, Feb 27, 2016] A study published in 2014 concluded that clinical advertisements by cancer centers frequently promote cancer therapy with emotional appeals that evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs, or insurance availability. [Vater LB and others. What are cancer centers advertising to the public? A content analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine 160:813-820, 2014] One of the study's authors told the Times reporter that their research "debunks the notion that advertising empowers patients to make better choices." The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow consumer advertising for drugs. The American Medical Association has recommended that advertising for drugs and medical devices directed toward consumers be banned. A 2010 report by the study's lead author provides additional insight into the problem.

FDA questions marketing of unapproved cancer screening test. The FDA has expressed concern to Pathway Genomics of San Diego, California, about the marketing of its CancerIntercept™ Detect as a screening tool. The test is claimed to detect several types of cancer early by analyzing "circulating tumor DNA" in blood specimens. In a letter to the company, the FDA stated that it knew of no evidence that the test had been properly validated.

Burzynski's activities examined. Newsweek has examined the decades-long struggle between Stanislaw Burzynski, M.D. and regulatory authorities that have tried to stop him treating cancer patients with questionable treatments. [Wilner T. Cancer 'visionary' Stanislaw Burzynski stands trial for unprecedented medical malfeasance. Newsweek, Feb 22, 2016] In 2014, the Texas Medical Board charged Burzynski with false advertising and patient mismanagement. Hearings on these charges began last year, but after Burzynski was diagnosed with a heart condition, the remainder of the trial was postponed until May. The Newsweek article also revealed a startling admission from Burzynski's long-time attorney, Richard Jaffe. About 20 years ago, the FDA permitted Burzynski to set up a clinical trial that included all of his nearly 200 patients. Clinical trials are supposed to test the safety and/or efficacy of a treatment. But in 2008, Jaffe wrote that since these patients were already on treatment, "there could not be any possibility of meaningful data coming out of the so-called trial." [Jaffe R. Galileo's Lawyer. Thumbs Up Press, Houston, TX, 2008, pp 106-108]

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This page was revised on February 28, 2016.