The Cancer Act doesn’t ban the researching of cancer cures

Published: 15th Feb 2019

In brief


The 1939 Cancer Act makes researching cancer cures illegal.


Incorrect. It makes advertising cancer cures or treatments illegal unless it’s to certain groups, mainly those involved in the medical profession. It doesn’t mention research at all.

A post claiming that the 1939 Cancer Act makes researching cancer cures illegal has been shared over 400 times on Facebook. This is incorrect—the 1939 Act does not ban cancer research.

One of the intentions of the Cancer Act 1939 was to “prohibit certain advertisements relating to cancer”. A lot of the Act has been changed or replaced in the 70 years since it was first introduced, but the section on advertising is largely still in place.

What it says is that no one can publish any kind of advert offering to treat people for cancer, prescribe any kinds of remedy for it, or publish adverts with advice on how to treat cancer.

The only exceptions to this are adverts published to bring these things to the attention of certain groups of people including: MPs or members of the House of Lords, nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. Councils and voluntary hospitals, as they were known at the time the Act was written, are also exempt as is anyone acting with the permission of the Secretary of State for Health.

The Act—both when it was published and now—doesn’t mention the word “research” once.

This is not radically different to how other medicines in the UK are regulated: other legislation also prohibits advertising most prescription-only medicines to the public, with advertising restricted to certain groups such as medical professionals. (Medicines that the public can purchase over the counter are allowed to be advertised.)

This article is part of our work factchecking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as a false.

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