Written by: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate

In early January, an SFU health sciences professor and a University of Alberta health law and policy professor published a paper on the negative effects crowdfunding has on cancer treatment.

Jeremy Snyder from SFU and Timothy Caulfield from UAlberta published their findings in The Lancet, a medical research journal. Their study, which began in May 2018, aimed to better understand crowdfunding’s involvement in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and why cancer patients choose to pursue CAM as treatment.

The exact definition of CAM varies, but the term often covers practices such as homeopathy, aromatherapy, herbal treatments, et cetera.

Crowdfunding for medical treatments is not unheard of, but crowdfunding for CAM cancer treatments has become more widespread, being frequently meant to supplement or even replace traditional evidence-based treatments. Snyder and Caulfield’s paper estimates that up to 50% of all cancer patients engage in CAM treatments.

As part of their research, Snyder and Caulfield identified 220 active cancer-related crowdfunding-for-CAM campaigns on the platform GoFundMe in June 2018. Of those campaigns, 85% were based in the US, 10% in Canada, 4% in the UK, and one campaign each in Germany, Ireland, and Spain. Out of these 220 cases, 38% of campaigns used CAM to supplement conventional treatments, 29% did not want to use traditional treatments, and 31% were not able to access traditional treatments.

Many crowdfunding campaigners are in serious condition, with some being in the terminal stage of their cancer diagnosis. Snyder and Caulfield’s paper reports that 28% of patients pass away mid-campaign.

Snyder told The Star that patients are often encouraged to try CAM by their friends and family. According to The Star, there are also patients who pursue CAM treatments under the conviction that “scientifically proven treatments are harmful,” as reflected in many crowdfuding campaigns’ claims.

The problem, according to Halifax oncologist Daniel Rayson in an interview with CBC, is that hese CAM treatments are not proven to work and could even harm patients if they inhibit the patient’s use of evidence-based treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy,

Furthermore, Snyder told The Peak in an email interview that these CAM treatments can significantly tax patients of their time, savings, and other resources, leaving them with little to spend with/on “loved ones or other pursuits” and also potentially leading them to a “more painful death.”

He added that CAM treatment campaigns can also help spread misinformation about CAM’s medical potential.

“This form of fundraising supports access to unproven and potentially dangerous treatments, may direct people away from traditional treatments, and spreads misinformation about the efficacy and safety of unproven treatments,” wrote Snyder.

Snyder said to CBC News that part of the appeal of these CAM treatments are the claims of “outstanding healing results.” Snyder added that he “was a little bit surprised and disturbed by how many people were actively using crowdfunding to turn away from effective treatments.”

In his email interview with The Peak, Snyder said he will continue his research into crowdfunding’s role in other unproven medical treatment plans but hopes his current work will illustrate the “potential of crowdfunding to expand access [for treatment options] on the radar.”

With files from Business Insider, CBC News, and The Star Vancouver.