We all like a quick fix for our problems and this can also include our health. The Internet, television, newspapers and magazines are filled with ads about products that make you look younger, lose weight quickly, ease arthritis pain, improve memory and perhaps even prevent or cure cancer. These products can seem very appealing and may even come with testimonials from well-known people; but there is still plenty of truth to the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

People who sell unproven remedies are quacks and they have been around for years. The difference now is that there are many more ways for them to market their products to the public. The problem is serious and health fraud can be considered a form of greed. Fraud involving serious illnesses, such as cancer, can be especially cruel.

“Anyone who suffers from cancer, or knows someone who does, understands the fear and desperation that can set in,” says Gary Cody, R.Ph., the National Health Fraud Coordinator for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “There can be a great temptation to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.”

The FDA defines health fraud as the deceptive promotion, advertising, distribution or sale of a product represented as being effective to prevent, diagnose, treat, cure or lessen an illness or condition or provide another beneficial effect on health but that has not been scientifically proven safe and effective for such purpose.

Unproven remedies promise false hope. They are a waste of money. At best, the products are worthless. At worst, they are harmful or dangerous. They also may keep people from getting their needed medical treatment. Medicinal products and devices intended to treat cancer must gain FDA approval before they are sold. The agency’s review process helps ensure that these products are effective and safe.

How can you protect yourself? Be skeptical. Question what you read, see or hear. Newspapers, television, etc. do not have to check on the truth behind the ads they run. Find out about a product before buying it and do not let a sales person influence you.

We at the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute suggest you look for these red flags:

• The product promises a quick and painless cure.

• The product is made from a secret, ancient or special formula.

• The product is only available by mail.

• The company selling the product uses testimonials, satisfied patients or well-known celebrities for endorsements.

• The product is effective for a wide range of illnesses.

• The company selling the product offers free gifts and promotional items with purchase.

• The company selling the product requires payment in advance and may claim limited availability.

Always check with your health care provider before starting anything new or adding something to existing treatment. Products can interact with your current medicines or prevent them from working the way they need to work. Do not take the risk with your health or your money. Learn more information about health fraud at fda.gov/healthfraud or report a problem with a product to the FDA at fda.gov/medwatch or by calling (800) 332-1088.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region.  For more information about the cancer institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.