There are two times a year that seem to be a time to beware of a serious assault of pseudoscience and quackery. The first time of year is in April, which is Autism Awareness Month. Over the last few years I can be just as sure as night following day, only to be followed by day again, that the anti-vaccine movement will use the occasion of Autism Awareness month to hit the airwaves with a blistering barrage of brain-dead buffoonery about vaccines and autism. This year, it consisted of Jenny McCarthy hitting Larry King Live with her equally brain dead boyfriend Jim Carrey, as well as Generation Rescue releasing its cornucopia of logical fallacies, pseudoscience, and misinformation, Fourteen Studies, all topped off by an amazingly disingenuous (not to mention profanely stupid) defense against the legitimate charges that the anti-vaccine movement will cause the resurgence of once vanquished infectious diseases.
The second time of the year is October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month. No, it’s not because I don’t like Breast Cancer Awareness month, but part of me does dread it. In particular, I dread the use to which über-quack Mike Adams has put it in 2007 and 2008, although, with October two-thirds over, he’s been blissfully quiet this year about breast cancer, probably because this year he’s too busy spreading misinformation, pseudoscience, and lies about H1N1. Heck, even the Age of Autism joined in last year, trying to liken the increasing incidence of breast cancer in Third World countries to the “autism epidemic.”
This October, alas, there’s a new woo in town. Apparently not satisfied with bioidentical hormone quackery, stem cell quackery, and general woo, Suzanne Somers has been all over the media this week promoting her book Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer–And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place.
It looks like it’s going to be a long fall.
Get a load of the blurb promoting it:
In Knockout, Suzanne Somers interviews doctors who are successfully using the most innovative cancer treatments–treatments that build up the body rather than tear it down. Somers herself has stared cancer in the face, and a decade later she has conquered her fear and has emerged confident with the path she’s chosen.
Now she shares her personal choices and outlines an array of options from doctors across the country:
EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS
- without chemotherapy
- without radiation
- sometimes, even without surgery
- combining standard treatments with therapies that build up the immune system
METHODS FOR MANAGING CANCER
- outlining ways to truly live with the diease
Since prevention is the best course, Somers’ experts provide nutrition, lifestyle, and dietary supplementation options to help protect you from getting the disease in the first place. Whichever path you choose, Knockout is a must-have resource to navigate the life-and-death world of cancer and increase your odds of survival. After reading stunning testimonials from inspirational survivors using alternative treatments, you’ll be left with a feeling of empowerment and something every person who is touched by this disease needs…HOPE.
I first found out about Somers’ book a little more than a month ago, and I was fortunate enough (I think) that one of my readers sent me a chapter list. I was really curious who these doctors where whom Somers interviewed. In particular, I predicted (and hoped) that one of the doctors was one whom we’ve met before. It was. Can you guess which one? Think about it. What major study did I blog about twice in the middle of September. No, no, you don’t have to go back to the archives and search. I’ll tell you:
Nicholas Gonzalez. He’s the second featured doctor who is “curing cancer,” right there in Chapter 6!
That’s right, one of these doctors who are “curing cancer” is a quack whose “protocol,” which includes 150 supplement pills a day topped off by a couple of coffee enemas per day, was recently shown to be worse than useless for pancreatic cancer and, indeed, far worse than conventional treatment.
Bummer timing, there, Suzanne, to have one of the subjects you lionize in your book to have his protocol shown to be not just worthless, but likely actively harmful.
Sadly, this bad timing appears to have had no effect on the silicone publicity blitz of everybody’s not-so-favorite bubble-brained quackery promoter. Somers has been all over the media this week, and I’ve seen nary a challenging question, much less a much deserved question about Nicholas Gonzalez. Instead we’re treated to cliched, credulous headlines like Suzanne Somers questions chemo in new book, Somers’ New Target: Conventional Cancer Treatment, or Suzanne Somers works to ‘Knockout’ cancer. The article circulating about her book on the AP wire begins:
Less than a year after the former sitcom actress frustrated mainstream doctors (and cheered some fans) by touting bioidentical hormones on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she’s back with a new book. This one’s on an even more emotional topic: Cancer treatment. Specifically, she argues against what she sees as the vast and often pointless use of chemotherapy.
Somers, who has rejected chemo herself, seems to relish the fight.
Let’s get one thing straight here. It is not amazing that Somers is still alive after having “rejected chemotherapy.” As I explained at the dawn of this blog, Somers had a stage I tumor with a favorable prognosis. If Somers is going to play the gambit of “I rejected chemotherapy and I’m still alive,” perhaps now is the time to go into more detail than I’ve ever gone into before about her case. Indeed, I did the research for my talk at TAM7 in July; so I might as well get some more use out of it and spread it beyond the 150 or so people who heard my talk.
To put it briefly, from what I can find from publicly available information on the Internet (I’ve never read one of Suzanne Somers’ books), Somers had a tumor that was treated by lumpectomy (excision of the “lump” or tumor) and a sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy, whic was negative. For those not familiar with the SLN procedure, it was a procedure developed to determine whether a woman’s breast cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) without actually removing all of the axillary lymph nodes. The SLN biopsy was developed as a strategy to decrease the possibility of lymphedema after breast cancer surgery and still get the necessary information. Basically, an SLN biopsy is preformed by injecting a radioactive dye and a blue dye (usually Lymphazurin Blue) into the breast. The dyes are then taken up in the lymphatics and head towards the axilla, where they lodge in one or more lymph nodes. This is (these are) the sentinel lymph node(s). The concept behind the procedure is that the sentinel node is the first lymph node a tumor cell that broke off from the tumor and got into the lymphatics would “see” and lodge in. In other words, the dye mimics the pathway that tumor cells take to metastasize to the axillary lymph nodes. If the sentinel node is negative, it’s a highly accurate indication that the rest of the lymph nodes are negative, and no further surgery is needed. Best of all, the risk of lymphedema from the procedure very, very small, far smaller than it is for axillary dissection (removing all the lymph nodes). Since the purpose of axillary dissection was far more diagnostic (to find out if the lymph nodes are contain tumor and, if so, how many), this is a good thing. If the sentinel lymph node contains tumor, then axillary dissection is needed, but far fewer women now undergo the procedure.
Why do I mention this? Because Somers underwent, as far as I can tell, fairly minimal surgery for a favorable, estrogen receptor-positive cancer. She also underwent radiation, although she now states that she would not have opted for radiation. As I described so long ago, however, surgical excision is curative for most small breast cancers. Radiation therapy reduces the risk of local recurrences (recurrences in the breast), and chemotherapy and antiestrogen therapy (like Tamoxifen) reduce the risk of systemic recurrences (recurrences elsewhere in the body). In other words, chemotherapy and radiation are “icing on the cake” after surgery. Indeed, there is a website known as AdjuvantOnline.com that allows physicians to calculate the estimated risk of recurrence and the estimated benefit of chemotherapy and, if appropriate, antiestrogen therapy. Given when Somers had her cancer diagnosed (2000) and because I know that she had a stage I tumor, i entered data for her assuming a tumor between 1-2 cm in size, mainly because most tumors under 1 cm would not warrant adjuvant chemotherapy. Here is a blowup of the slide from my talk showing Somers’ data:
As you can see, Somers had an 88.6% chance of living 10 years without any chemotherapy or Tamoxifen. Chemotherapy provides a survival advantage of 2.5%; tamoxifen, 2.5%; and combination therapy, 4.1%. In other words, eschewing chemotherapy and tamoxifen increased Suzanne Somers’ odds of dying of her cancer within 10 years by around 4%. As I’ve explained before, although the benefit of chemotherapy and tamoxifen for early stage breast cancer is around 30% on a relative basis, but it’s only around 4% or 5% on an absolute basis. You may think that’s not very much, but, I assure you, the vast majority of women are willing to undergo chemotherapy and hormonal therapy for that extra insurance. Moreover, for more advanced tumors, that relative benefit generally stays around 30% or so, meaning that, as the risk of dying from cancer goes up, the absolute benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy goes up as well. Be that as it may, I’ve laid out this information to point out that testimonials like Somers’ are not particularly impressive if you know something about breast cancer. I also mention it to point out that, even though it’s a bad idea for Somers to be pumping herself full of “bioidentical hormones,” the favorable nature of her tumor means that she can get away with it. Even if it increased her risk of recurrence by 10%, the odds would still be overwhelmingly in her favor, adjuvant chemotherapy and tamoxifen or not, thanks to her friendly neighborhood surgeon. So when you see a passage like this about Somers, remember what I’ve just told you:
Diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago, she had a lumpectomy and radiation, but declined chemotherapy, as she did more recently when briefly misdiagnosed with pervasive cancer.
By the way, Somers discussion of being misdiagnosed with “full body cancer” sounds rather fishy to me. I don’t want to downplay how emotionally frightening it may have been to have been misdiagnosed with a cancer recurrence as widespread metastatic disease, but the pressure for her to undergo chemotherapy just didn’t sound right. See for yourself:
Also read the first chapter of her book. She says that doctors urged her to take chemotherapy. However, in the case of a woman with a CT scan showing suspicious lesions that could be metastases, usually the discussion of chemotherapy is reserved until after there is a tissue diagnosis; i.e., after the biopsy. In the interview above, she states that a biopsy showed that she didn’t have cancer. (I guess you have to read the book to find out what she actually did have.) I can understand how such a scare might cause enormous fear, but unfortunately Somers never had much faith in scientific medicine to begin with, which is why she apparently used this scare as the jumping off point to attack “the cancer industry” with a napalm barrage of burning stupid, full of the arrogance of ignorance.
On the other hand, I will give Ann Curry some mild credit, though. in that at least it was mentioned that some of these doctors being praised by Somers in her book (well, most of them) have been in trouble with their state medical boards, the FDA, and the law. However, Curry was far too easy on Somers when she started blathering on about “choosing alternatives” and the “$2 billion cancer business.” I also have to repeat my disappointment in that Curry never mentioned the complete and utter failure of the trial testing the methods of one of Somers’ doctors who are “curing cancer,” namely Nicholas Gonzalez. At the very least, one of Somers’s doctors was shown to be using methodology that is not only ineffective but actively harmful, Gonzalez’s rationalizations notwithstanding. That’s why I hope that, wherever Somers shows up, you, my readers, will spread the news.
So what other doctors “curing cancer” is Somers promoting? These:
The Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer
Chapter 5: Stanislaw Burzynski, M.D.
Chapter 6: Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.
Chapter 7: Burton Goldberg
Chapter 8: Julie Taguchi, M.D.
Chapter 9: James Forsythe, M.D.
Preventing Cancer Before it Starts
Chapter 10: Russell Blaylock
Chapter 11: Steve Haltiwanger, MD
Chapter 12: David Schmidt
Chapter 13: Jonathan Wright, M.D.
Chapter 14: Steven Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N.
Chapter 15: Michael Galitzer
Chapter 16: Cristiana Paul, M.S.
Oh goody. Burzynski. I’ve never written about him before. There’s also Russell Blaylock, who’s of late made a name for himself spreading misinformation about H1N1:
I’ll spare you from parts 2 and 3. You get the idea, and if you really want to see them, you can find them on YouTube. Suffice it to say, showing up on Alex Jones’ Prison Planet TV is not exactly a way to burnish one’s scientific credentials. Jones’ websites, Infowars and Prison Planet, are repositories of conspiracy craziness on par with David Icke’s lizard people, including 9/11 Truthers, “New World Order” conspiracy theorists (including, of course, the Illuminati and the Rothschilds), and a heapin’ helpin’ of anti-vaccine and alt-med conspiracy mongering.
A reader has kindly offered to send me a promotional copy of Somers’ book released to reviewers a month or two ago. I accepted with some trepidation, namely because the reason I had never wanted to read such drivel before was because I didn’t want to put a single penny into the coffers of woo-meisters like Suzanne Somers. That reason has been taken away from me. That’s why, if my brain can handle it, I will be reading Somers’ book over the next few weeks, and periodically blogging it. I had thought of blogging each chapter, but I don’t know if I can stand to do that. However, given the sheer volume of misinformation, pseudoscience, and quackery that Somers is laying down in my specialty, I feel that I must at least make an effort.
At least, as far as I know, Somers hasn’t been booked for Oprah yet. But it’s coming. I’m sure of it.
It would appear that Suzanne Somers is going to be on Larry King Live on Friday night. Perhaps people should send his producers this post, as well as these posts about the Gonzalez Protocol:
- The Gonzalez protocol: Worse than useless for pancreatic cancer
- Nicholas Gonzalez’ response to the failed trial of the Gonzalez protocol: Disingenuous nonsense
- Tom Harkin, NCCAM, health care reform, and a cancer treatment that is worse than useless
- “Gonzalez Regimen” for Cancer of the Pancreas: Even Worse than We Thought (Part I: Results)
- “Gonzalez Regimen” for Cancer of the Pancreas: Even Worse than We Thought (Part II: Loose Ends)
- Cancer Quackery is Dangerous – The Gonzalez Treatment
Sadly, not a single interviewer I’ve seen interviewing Somers has asked her about the study of the Gonzalez protocol and how she reconciles the science that shows his protocol to be worse than useless with her belief in him as a someone who is “curing” cancer (as she discusses in Chapter 6 of her new book). It’s probably a lost cause, given how woo-friendly Larry King is, but any time you see Somers scheduled to hawk her book please point out, beforehand if possible or in a letter if not possible to get the information to the media outlet beforehand, this study about Nicholas Gonzalez.
It could save the lives of any credulous readers who might think that Suzanne Somers knows anything about anything other than portraying a stereotypical dim blonde in a 1970s sitcom and selling Thighmasters.