What celebrity patients like Farrah Fawcett can teach us about cancer. - By Barron H. Lerner - Slate Magazine
Fawcett's case had another component that potentially sent the wrong message to other patients. In addition to the traditional cancer treatment she was receiving in the United States, the actress traveled to Germany six times to receive a combination of natural supplements and immune treatments not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These trips were chronicled in a moving documentary, Farrah's Story, that aired on NBC in mid-May. In seeking this type of therapy, Fawcett mirrored a choice made by actor Steve McQueen, who futilely traveled to Mexico in 1980 in search of a cure for his malignant mesothelioma. McQueen's Mexican doctors treated him with dozens of enzymes and vitamins, coffee enemas, and an anti-cancer drug called Laetrile, which was ultimately shown to be worthless.
Did the alternative treatments help Fawcett? It is unlikely. As Laurence R. Sands, a Florida surgeon who treats anal cancer patients, told WebMD, there is no scientific proof that such immune system stimulants work. Nevertheless, one of the German doctors involved in Fawcett's case claimed that the treatments had shrunk her tumors and substantially prolonged her life.
Once again, media coverage of Fawcett's case, while ostensibly providing useful information, ran the risk of sending the exact wrong message. Thousands of desperate end-stage cancer patients traveled to Mexico upon hearing Steve McQueen's story. The new destination may now become Germany...Well, maybe not so much to Germany given Fawcett's recent death.
I've written about science-free therapies before.