The Good Thinking Society charity has voiced concerns that crowdfunding sites could be helping people with advanced cancer spend thousands of pounds on unproven and alternative treatments.
Figures collected by the charity and published in the BMJ show that crowdfunding for alternative therapies for patients with terminal cancer has soared in recent years. There are fears that huge sums of money are being raised for treatments that are not backed by evidence.
The figures show that since 2012, appeals on UK crowdfunding sites for cancer treatment with an alternative health element have raised £8 million. Most of this was for treatment abroad.
Figures from the online donation platform JustGiving show more than 2,300 UK cancer-related appeals were set up on its site in 2016, a seven-fold 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,” according to the BMJ.
The Good Thinking Society now wants crowdfunding sites to vet cancer appeals and "reject outright proposals that refer to specific drugs that have been discredited, extreme dietary regimes, intravenous vitamin C, alkaline therapy and other alternative treatments".
The society's project director, Michael Marshall, says: "If these platforms want to continue to benefit from the goodwill of their users - and, indeed, to profit from the fees they charge each of their fundraisers - they have a responsibility to ensure that they do not facilitate the exploitation of vulnerable people."