CAC calls for takedown of 14 YouTube videos promoting miracle treatments to cure cancer

Roger Loppacher
Roger Loppacher. (Foto 1)

  • CAC report warns that 74% of YouTube search results on cancer treatment contain fake news
  • The videos have 25 million views with titles such as '4 spoons a day and the cancer disappears' and 'The seed that cures cancer better than chemo'
  • Their rhetoric is anti-medicine and they call chemotherapy into question, calling it "poison"


The Catalan Audiovisual Council (CAC) has requested the takedown of 14 YouTube videos that promise to cure cancer using miraculous procedures that have no scientific evidence and that discredit treatment given by medical professionals, especially chemotherapy. Furthermore, some of the videos are commercial in nature, offering products that have not been scientifically tested as supposed treatments to cure the illness.

The videos have 25 million views, are located on channels that have almost 2.5 million subscribers in total, and have numerous ‘likes’ and positive user reviews.

The request follows a CAC report on online disinformation about cancer. The CAC analysed the most visible videos on YouTube and found that almost 3 out of 4 videos (74%) contain disinformation about this illness by defending therapies that have no recognised scientific basis and containing content that may be false, erroneous or misleading. Only 14% of videos are informative about cancer, while the remaining 12% include occasional or circumstantial references to this illness.

The report was presented today, 5 October, at a press conference with CAC chairperson, Roger Loppacher, the Secretary General of Health of the Regional Ministry of Health, Laura Pelay, and the chair of the Association of Doctors of Barcelona (CoMB), Jaume Padrós.

Loppacher described the videos as very serious with a possible "very negative effect on people's health," and criticised them as potentially taking advantage of cancer patients' vulnerability. "Many people will be going through an extremely difficult time. People who are looking for information on treating cancer may well have been diagnosed with it and therefore be feeling vulnerable or desperate," he added. He consequently called for "the immediate takedown of these intentionally false videos that could jeopardise people's lives".

Laura Pelay also expressed "concerns about disinformation on such a sensitive topic as cancer as we aim for people to be well informed with scientific and reliable facts". She announced that an Advisory Commission would be set up on complementary therapies to treat cancer and related serious illnesses and that they would be examining the impact of events on this subject that are held or promoted in Catalonia and are lacking in their evidence base.

On behalf of the Association of Doctors of Barcelona, Jaume Padrós declared that "Catalan doctor’s associations have for some time been concerned about the rise in availability and dissemination of pseudotherapies that lack any scientific evidence and are presented as 'alternative medicine', although there is only one medicine". According to the president of the CoMB, "this type of procedure is a scam and crosses three red lines: it takes advantage of patients' vulnerability at a time of huge uncertainty; it creates false expectations and, what is most serious, often encourages people to abandon treatments that are based on scientific evidence". Padrós called for all people to combat pseudotherapy and revealed plans for the CoMB and CAC to work together on detecting and demanding that dangerous content be removed from the internet and the media and on promoting critical analysis among the general public.

This is the CAC's second report related to fake news on the internet. The first addressed news from the gender perspective and was published in March. For this report on cancer treatment, the CAC used the criteria set out by the European Commission High Level Expert Group on fake news and online disinformation (HLEG).

The search returned so many results that the CAC filtered them by number of views, selecting 14 videos to analyse in detail that have been viewed 25 million times in total. One feature common to all 14 videos analysed is their widespread acceptance from viewers in terms of content evaluation.

The first finding of the CAC report is dissemination of rhetoric against conventional cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy. For example, in a video entitled "Chemotherapy Causes More Cancer", it is postulated that chemotherapy makes tumours grow and cancer cells reproduce more rapidly.

In other videos chemotherapy is described as "poison" and "chemotherapy involves killing people who should be cured". This is illustrated with an image of a pill embossed with the symbol of a skull.

The report also reveals that in addition to calling medical treatments into question, the videos analysed propose products or therapies with alleged cancer-healing qualities. One video that had 6.3 million views claims that apple seeds can cure cancer. Of the many reactions to this video, 95.2% were "Like".

The video The cancer dies in just 42 hours alleges that a beetroot-based juice has already cured more than 45,000 people. Another video, entitled "This powerful root destroys ovarian cancer, prostate and colon, and is stronger than chemotherapy" claims that thanks to a recipe based on ginger and honey, many patients "have managed to improve or overcome the illness without the need for surgery or chemotherapy".

Yet another proposes a cure using sodium bicarbonate, on the premise that "cancer is a fungus". According to one video the key food is a tropical fruit called guanabana, which is said to be "10,000 times more effective than chemotherapy". In another video, entitled 4 spoons a day and the cancer disappears, it is argued that taking a "remedy" invented by a Russian "scientist" called Hristo Mermerski is completely effective in curing cancer.

This is but one example of many found during the research of an effort to lend credibility to videos by resorting to allegedly scientific discourse, mentioning supposed studies without citing sources or dates and referring to supposed medical personnel. The videos also include supposed first-hand accounts from people claiming to have been cured of cancer by undergoing the treatment proposed.

Lastly, the report shows that another characteristic that runs through most of the content analysed is references to products or services linked to cancer treatment that may be construed as advertising.

The CAC extended its action to the internet in 2015 and has since published 11 reports on child pornography, pro-anorexia and bulimia sites, violence against women, content that incites suicide, paedophilia and homophobia, and fake news. Requests from the CAC have led to providers taking action on 64 contents.

Of these, 42 have been definitively taken down, 13 have been given a content warning or the obligation for prior registration, 1 has had the comments function disabled, and the remaining 8 can no longer be found either because they have expired or they have been moved to private sites.


Analysis of disinformation online about cancer (conclusions)

(NB: the URLs of the content in question have been deleted from the public version of the report.)


Roda de premsa
Laura Pelay (left), Roger Loppacher and Jaume Padrós. (Foto 2)