Are Private Cancer Hospitals Breaking the Law?


The Cancer Act 1939 tends to appear fairly frequently on this blog. The reason is that this piece of legislation looms so large is because it is one of the few acts that actually places a specific restriction on what quacks can and cannot do through a criminal sanction.

Under English law, there is a common law right to treat people as long as there is informed consent. Thus, the whacky world of quackery can trade without too much fear (although I doubt informed consent is ever meaningfully achieved.)

However, the Cancer Act makes it a criminal act to to advertise to treat cancer.

There is an assumption though that the Cancer Act is aimed at quacks. This is not true. It makes no assumptions about the nature of the treatment. All adverts to treat cancer are equal before the law.

This is not too surprising in that in the early 20th Century, cancer treatment was rare, or at least successful cancer treatment was rare. Surgery existed for a few forms, but most forms of cancer were essentially untreatable.

And so, the Act simply made it an offense to advertise to treat cancer- with a few defences such as advertising to doctors and not to the public.

Some have argued that this act is now out of date. But it still serves a useful purpose in that cancer is still a feared disease and we have only made fairly humble progress in treating it. A blanket ban ensures that all treatment options are mediated by general practitioners and oncologists by referral and not by strength of advertising budget. Given the huge emotional pressures to ‘do something’ this would look like a good, pragmatic solution to protect people from the unscrupulous, greedy or deluded.

We have seen that the act can actually have an effect. It has scared off Dr Burzynksi from coming to the UK promoting his dubious treatments. It prompted an MP to intervene when Dr Simoncini was due to come to the UK to promote his baking soda cure for cancer.

But what about conventional clinics? Well, it would appear that many private clinics advertise their cancer treatment centres on websites. Are they aware of the act? Do they have exemptions?

One clinic came to my attention, the Christie Clinic in Manchester. Run by the huge American healthcare group, HCA international, it uses NHS public faculties to provide exclusive private cancer treatments.

I wrote to them to ask under what exemption they felt they could advertise their services. This is their reply,

Dear Mr Lewis

Cancer Act 1939

Thank you for your email dated 8 May 2012 enquiring as to the status of the Christie Clinic website under the Cancer Act 1939 (“the Act”).

HCA International are of course aware of the Cancer Act 1939 and, in particular, are mindful of the prohibition contained in section 4 of the Act against the publication of any advertisement containing an offer to treat a person for cancer, to prescribe any remedy for cancer or to give any advice in connection with the treatment for cancer. We appreciate that the purpose of the Act is primarily to address advertising by unregistered, unregulated and potentially unscrupulous individuals who may lay claim to ‘cures’ for cancer, or its prevention, but with untested products. Clearly that is a very long way away indeed, from the cancers services offered by HCA and our partner organisations.

We consider that The Christie Clinic’s website merely states the existence of a joint partnership to deliver a specialist cancer clinic for private patients and provide information regarding the services available at The Christie Clinic. The information available on the website is not considered by us to strictly fall within section 4 of the Cancer Act 1939 as no specific treatments are promoted on the website, rather the clinic decides the appropriate treatment for each patient on an individual basis following in depth clinical considerations and in accordance with appropriate guidance and regulations.

You will be aware from published guidance and reported prosecutions, that Trading Standards envisage enforcement of the Act to be targeted at misrepresentative claims that products can cure or prevent cancer. This is clearly the polar opposite of advertising the availability of approved and regulated services. On this basis we consider that the publication of the website is outside of the scope of the prohibition in the Act as the services advertised as being available at The Christie Clinic are fully regulated and relate to a joint venture with an NHS organisation and bear no comparison with the ‘control’ intended by the Act.

We will of course follow any advice from the Department of Health or Trading Standards to ensure our publications remain fully within the law.

I hope this information addresses any concerns you may have had regarding The Christie Clinic website.

Kind Regards

I do not find this response convincing.

It appears to be saying, that, yes, adverting cancer treatments is illegal, but we are the good guys.

This attitude appears to be no different to what many cancer quacks would claim.

Even of the Christie Clinic’s services were fully evidence based, it strikes me that a good case could be made that all referrals should still be intermediated. Direct advertising risks putting pressure on people under the most severe pressure. The commercial imperative of such an organisation does not mix well with the need to make cool, considered and informed decisions. And as such, the Act’s protection strikes me as well balanced.

Enforcement is a different matter, Local Trading Standards are very poor at protecting people from misapplied health claims – they are not trained up and appear not to see consumer protection in health matters as a priority. There have been a few recent prosecutions under the Cancer Act, and in Manchester, but I suspect that the local councils would not take on such a huge and wealthy organisations.

The Advertising Standards Authority may see this as interesting. But again, they are largely toothless and may regard this as a local enforcement issue.

The existence of such advertising allows quacks to claim a double standard. And I suspect they are right. Health care choices need to be made cautiously and with the best available information and evidence. Advertising, no matter how well intentioned, may distort that process, and in life or death decisions, that is a concern that needs attention.

46 Comments on Are Private Cancer Hospitals Breaking the Law?

  1. Is there a distinction between institutional and product adverts? In the former it says, “Hey, we exist and do the following.” The latter says this is better than anything else.

    In the US there is a chain of hospitals that advertises a high caring level for cancer patients, even using alt-meds when needed. As if they ever were. The tone of their adverts makes you feel that someone would do the best they could for you.

    On the flip side, can you run ads saying that something is complete hokum? Don’t trust alt-med providers for anything, especially related to cancer.

  2. It would have been helpful to have some examples, like screenshots or quotes from their site. In general, I’m with JimR on the “Hey, we exist” issue, but if they go past that in their presentation they’re in violation of the law.

    PS: Andy, you may want to proofread the third and fourth paragraph from the bottom. from “Even of…” to “…organizations.”

  3. I feel this is completely one sided bull, these alternate therapies have had far more success than the conventional carcinogenic treatments the NHS offer!! this law keeps people in the dark from making their own minds up! People should have the freedom to choose, this Act is in the dark ages indeed, Dr Burzynski has in fact cured thousands of people, Gerson Therapy, he cured hundreds that were sent home to die.. Rick Simpson.. I for one will choose alternative therapy if I or ANY of my family got this CURABLE disease!!! Prevention is always better than cure however and the western diet, pesticides, junk food, farmed animals, processed food, chemicals EVERYWHERE in foods, products is WHY we have a cancer epidemic and people NEED yo be aware of ALL the facts and scientific studies.. Thankfully there’s an array of information we have easy access to.. People just need to know where to look and keep an opened mind …we’ve been kept in the dark for TOO LONG !!!!!

  4. Whatever.. Do you get paid by the corrupt greedy blood sucking government !? Prove your right if I’m wrong.. You believe and continue to brain wash.. I’m not swallowing it that’s for sure!! Give me real facts.. We’re not supposed to know the forbidden cures as this was ruin the cancer business wouldn’t it.. All the millions of pounds they rake in for it.. God forbid there’s a cure.. Way too much money to lose! No one is allowed to prove they’re right because they can’t patent natural cures, so there is no scientific proof .. Even though cancer research are supporting a scientist in Bristol to test marijuana and bowel cancer, that’s on THEIR website.. Why don’t our so called leaders get cancer?????

  5. Your meaning Alan? There are plenty of testimonies from people who’ve been cured naturally, who is to say its not these Alt cures .. Could of course be placebo, but how are we to ever know if they’re not tested ??? Just by my small amount of research.. It is wholely plausible that this ‘conspiracy theory’ is in fact true! Panorama covered a story of Burzynski, one girl from Kent UK had terminal brain cancer and has now recovered.. She believes she wouldn’t be here if not for him??

    • I see your problem: you think testimonies provide good evidence. They don’t.

      As for ‘natural therapies’, they have been and are being tested. Those that have shown promise have been refined, tested more and those that show a good benefit/harm ratio have become medicine. The rest should be consigned to the dust bin..

      But if you think there are some natural therapies that do work, perhaps you’d like to say which ones, along with good evidence for them, of course. But if they haven’t been tested, please tell us why you think that is.

      • How about a vegan diet which cured a woman of 4th stage cancer. She’d tried everything else an the Drs sent her home because they’d done all they could and it was still in her blood. Last ditch attempt was to go to a nutritionist. She cut out all meat and all packaged foods. Had only raw vegetable juices for breakfast and salads for lunch and dinner and was cured. The conventional treatments are the luck of the draw as far as I can see. My mother had half her stomach cut out and treatment and still died a year later. A cousin of my husband had all the chemo etc but he didn’t die of cancer, he died from kidney disease caused by the treatment. A WEE girl, daughter of a friend one of twins died after a painful, miserable three years of life on chemo,unable to eat at all because the chemo damaged her throat.
        She was discovered to have the disease at four months of age.

      • The worst people in the world are anonymous commenters who claim XXX diet cures cancer without the slightest evidence and then tries to scare with terrible cancer stories. Shameful.

  6. Oh Andy and HOW is that story supposed to make me think differently to the Burzynski claim… Have you actually READ it !! She was denied further treatment even though it gave her longer than she was told !!

    It pretty pointless arguing with you both.. Believe what you want to believe, I’m not just going by testimonies if you assume there have been no cures for cancer…Have you investigated the life’s work of Max Gerson, Nurse Rene Caisse, Harry Hoxsey, Royal Raymond Rife, Dr Johanna Budwig, Dr Hulda Clarke, Dr Leonard Cold well, Dr Stanislaw Burzynski…Rick Simpson…? Clearly none of you have, and therefore your assumptions are without foundation !!! IF you want to learn about the cancer industry and about the pioneering people who were suppressed and ignored despite proof that their protocols worked…then have a look at, ~ Cancer : The Forbidden Cures…~ The Cancer Cure That Worked, ~ The Gerson Miracle, ~ Cancer is a serious Business – Burzynski…..and you might learn something ! Unless you are more interested in being right than learning something beyond your assumptions…?

    • Mrs Lee Rabbitts said:

      I’m not just going by testimonies

      Then why did you mention testimonials?

      Those names are all very familiar to us. Now, do you have any good evidence for any of them?

    • I do not expect you to change your mind when you are confronted with your own errors. I have been debating supporters of quackery for too long to think that reality will change their mind.

      Burzynski gave Laura the ‘all clear’. Within a few weeks it was obvious that this was not true. What we saw was the natural progression of her illness and Burzynski had been extracting money from her during the grace period given from conventional therapies. That you cannot see that Burzynsk is the worst of mainstream medicine rather then best of some sort of alternative just shows how distorted your world view is.

      What Burzynski does is horrific and shaming on those that support him.

  7. When the solution is sought primarily through pharmaceutical chemicals and when a few key people – who hold the same perspective/attitude – are in positions of power in bodies like the FDA and the AMA…it does not require Einstein to work out that the parameters for a cancer cure can become extremely narrow ! Just look at what Morris Fishbein of the AMA did to Royal Raymond Rife…..

    I will no longer waste my energy here..

  8. If you actually RESEARCHED these FAMILIAR names, you would KNOW that EVIDENCE doesn’t exist because they were REMOVED by authorities to suppress it .. Testimonials are all they have !! Actually study these names and your answer is there!!

    • So, the evidence doesn’t exist because some Big Bad Boys stole it, yet you know these treatments work ‘cos someone told you?

      Would I be wasting my time asking you how, in these days of a reasonably free Internet, where anyone can seemingly set up a website on a server in just about any country in the world and say just about whatever they like, that all those people’s ‘evidence’ still hasn’t been published?

      But perhaps you could publish it here on Andy’s blog and see how long it is up for before the Big Bad Boys get it taken down? That would tell us.

  9. OK … Give me proof that they are conspiracy theories !! Pretty convincing work by ALL of those people if you actually STUDY them Alan.. Clearly you are yet another mis informed brainwashed sheep.. Goodbye

  10. And Andy I apologise I never saw your comment whilst battling with Alan.. Where did you get YOUR info/theory from I wonder too… At the end of the day YOU cannot prove WHO is right or wrong and therefore this takes me back to my FIRST comment where people should have the right to choose given it is THEIR bodies, THEIR cancer … Who has the right to HIDE other possible avenues from us, yes by all means have some sort of policy but to hide it ?? Why could that really be, if that doesn’t fuel so called conspiracy theories !!

    • So, how do we decide what might be true and what might be false?

      But perhaps you could say whether you support the right of people to be given all the information they need to allow them to make an informed choice?

    • Mrs Rabbitts. When someone makes a remarkable claim – like they can cure cancer – it is generally up to them to provide the robust evidence that such a serious claim requires. Until they do, we should not take such claims seriously.

      It is not up to me to show you why your remarkable claims are nonsense. The ball is in your court.

      I made the claim that dogs are spies from Venus. What would you think if I demanded that it was up to you to prove me wrong? Surely, it is my task to prove my venusian dog spy theory?

  11. Oh my god how purile .. Its laughable.. I’ll leave you little boys with your Narrow mindedness.. You just parrot the status quo..

  12. [moderated: please do not posts lists of links. This is a discussion forum. An argument can be made with references if required.

    The list you posted is full of anecdotal unverified claims. You appear not to have got the point that ought to be obvious to you after claiming cures for the Kent woman.]

    • I can’t wait!

      But what is it? Definitive evidence that the cancer cures have been stolen by those nasty Big Bad Boys or…holds breath…that very definitive evidence itself???

    • Chris had surgery. Which can be very effective against such cancers. Instead we are led to believe it was nuts and berries that ‘cured’ him.

  13. OK didn’t sleep last night, read some of a book called super brain about power of the mind by Deepak Chopra and it suddenly all came together.. We create our own reality, like Einstein knew this.. The more we tell ourself something, the more we believe it !! This debate I had with you kind of gave me a reality check too.. So I do still believe there’s a natural cancer cure but that is within ourself! We believe something is working so much that the positive thought actually heals?.. Positive mental attitude for example! Maybe.. Just maybe these people believed so much that they cured people it then gave that sufferer a belief.. Pretty philosophical I know, but better than conspiracy theories!!

  14. Why does a law enacted in the UK have any authority over treatments offered in USA, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand or any other country? Why in fact, does a law passed in 1939 , concerning a disease about which very little was known at the time, have any bearing at all in this day and age? Why should ANYONE have the right to tell anyone else what they may or may not treat themselves with. WHY is it that the preferred treatments are STILL Chemo and radiation therapy although they FREQUENTLY fail and even cause the patient to die from the damage done by the ‘cure’.

    • To answer you questions.

      The 1939 Act applies to England and Wales. It does not apply to the USA or anywhere else.
      The law was brought in at the time to stop exploitation of people with cancer from false promises of cure. It ensure that treatments (what little there were) were mediated by doctors and not by mountebanks and charalatans. Unfortunately, depsote the huge increase in effective treatments, there are still so many that wish to expoit people with cancer with false promises and miracle cures. The law does not tell anyone what they can be treated with. It is simply about advertising – and applies equally to real and quack treatments.
      Despite huge increases in our understanding of the various cancers, there are still many that have no effective treatments, and many are only paartially successful. Chemo is a very brought class of treatments – and the range of pharmaceutical based treatments has increased rather largely.

  15. If this law is not due to the ‘cancer business’ then maybe someone can explain why there isn’t a 1939 Parkinson’s act, or a 1939 anything else act? just so happens cancer is one of the most profitable illnesses so government need to protect their income…….surely if you ‘government backers’ are right then there should be a similar law for all diseases no?

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