Celebrity Advice is Bad for Your Health

Posted on March 19, 2011


suzanne somers bookCommon cold?  Give me those antibiotics, I don’t care if you say they won’t work for a viral infection!  Breast cancer?  Chemotherapy is poison, I’ll take my chances!  Got any of those bioidentical hormones?

I can’t help but notice a funny mentality many Americans seem to hold (no, not funny like a clown, Joe).  People are willing – in fact, expecting – to take a drug for relatively minor or transient conditions that cause them a bit of discomfort, but for some reason shy away from what medicine has to offer when the stakes are high.  I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why this philosophy switch occurs when someone’s life is potentially at stake.

Granted, the risks are also higher in the situations I’m referring to – serious side effects are commonplace, and for certain individuals with certain conditions, aggressive treatment actually isn’t their best option.  But that’s not what this article aims to explore – it’s about the dangerous combination of the above mentality and someone telling you they have your magic bullet (if you’ll just buy their book).

A few months back, I went on a tirade in front of my family about Suzanne Somers and how her book about her battle with cancer, Knockout, is so dangerous.  In short, it chronicles (with shady details, bias, and rhetoric abound – but hey, it’s a free country) not only her experience with breast cancer, but her search for answers with physicians who are treating cancer in ways that no respectable members of the medical community support, and have even been proven to have worse outcomes than no treatment at all.

I took the liberty of making a visual for a woman with Somers’ diagnosis, using free software from Adjuvant! Online.  Somers had a small, early stage cancer, and refused chemotherapy and radiation after surgical excision:

suzanne somers

Created with Adjuvant! Online. Click to enlarge.

To understand why Somers is a scam artist, you have to understand the following:  surgical excision is curative in most cases of small (<2cm), localized breast cancer.  Add radiation therapy and the risk of local recurrence is diminished – cells that may have been missed by the surgeon, or “seeded” during the operation, will be killed.  Systemic chemotherapy (such as Tamoxifen) can help hunt down and kill surviving cells that may have spread elsewhere in the body – this reduces the risk of metastatic disease.  It’s important to note, however, that in a case like hers, foregoing adjuvant therapy only forfeits a small survival advantage – surgery is the most important component.

There’s also no guarantee the cancer won’t return.  Read this carefully:  nobody on this earth can guarantee you you’ll be cancer-free for life, especially not after they’ve just finished treating you for cancer.  If this happens to you, or you read it in a book or on a website, red flags should be going up.

So am I really to believe that Somers has unearthed the secret to curing cancer, but us meanies over here in Western Medicine land are holding her down?  You have got to be kidding me – this is a case of, at best, a very misguided individual providing false hope to people who need the truth, and at worst, a manipulator praying on peoples’ deepest fears to make a profit.

The intent of this article is not to accuse Somers of deliberately withholding information from her followers that could will result in lives lost, or even to attack her for being ignorant of the role of chemotherapy and radiation in cancer treatment.  It’s to show you that very, very bad information can be, and is, published – there is nothing in place to stop this kind of misinformation from hitting the shelves (where it gains considerable credibility).  In my opinion, this is just as damaging as anti-vaccine propaganda (purported by celebrities Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy, and others).

So please, please, be careful when you read about alternative therapies.  Always keep in mind who your source is, and if you need a reminder about why evidence-based medicine works, see my previous post:  The (Modern) Art of Medicine.

By the way, Suzanne, there’s no such thing as “whole body cancer” – no physician would ever diagnose you with such a thing, and it certainly can’t be cured with the snake oil you’re selling.  Perhaps you could us all a favor:  when you have the urge to write another book, read one instead.  Preferably, not one of your own.

Posted in: Health, Medicine