Oncologists warn against misleading ‘miracle’ treatments on social media

Tata Memorial Centre issues clarifying statement for the second time

May 17, 2019 10:52 pm | Updated 10:52 pm IST

Indian oncologists are increasingly battling unscientific miracle treatments for cancer shared widely on social media. On Thursday, Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), the country’s premier cancer institute, issued a rebuttal on a strange cancer remedy attributed to them in a widely circulated WhatsApp message, which stated that hot coconut water can destroy cancer cells of all types.

“There is no data to suggest that hot coconut water can provide cures for any type of cancer. Public are requested not to be misinformed by such false and harmful messages sent on social media,” read a statement issued by the TMC’s director Dr. Rajendra Badwe.

‘Repeated often’

This is the second time that the Institute has issued an official clarification on a social media message. Last year, a fake health warning on WhatsApp linked breast cancer to wearing a black bra in a message attributed to the TMC. “This is being repeated often. We thought it was necessary for us to clarify,” Dr. Badwe told The Hindu , adding that social media is not a place where medical treatment and solutions should be discussed. “It is simply not the right forum,” he said.

Nearly 1 million new cancer cases are diagnosed in India every year. Early diagnosis and early treatment is key to battling the disease.

“But there are many patients who are easily get misled by such fake messages. We see so many patients who give the history of attempting to treat small lesions using cow urine and other such unscientific remedies. By the time they come to us, their cancers are advanced,” said Dr. Sourav Datta, head and neck cancer specialist at Kolkata’s Narayana Superspeciality Hospital.

Last month, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Bhopal Pragya Singh Thakur claimed that her breast cancer had been cured by cow urine, whereas Ms. Thakur had opted for a bilateral mastectomy to prevent recurrence of her cancer.

‘Intentional, irrelevant’

“These intentional, irrelevant and widely circulated unscientific remedies defer cancer treatment in many patients,” said Dr. Datta, who believes that it’s a form of intentional false propaganda aimed at hitting science.

Oncosurgeon Dr. Ramakant Deshpande, Director, Asian Cancer Institute, Mumbai, said that such messages are extremely damaging. “The miscreants think that by attributing it to a doctor or an institution, they are validating the remedy,” said Dr. Deshpande, adding that awareness is extremely important so that such messages can be discredited as rumours at an individual level.

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