Dr. Weil: Chemo OK, but other treatments needed
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Chemotherapy remains the best option for treating certain cancers despite its potentially damaging side effects, integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil said Thursday.
"I think the benefits greatly outweigh the risks," said Weil, appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live."
Weil, a best-selling author and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona, said he hopes chemotherapy eventually will be replaced with treatments that are less destructive to normal cells.
He cited such treatments as gene therapy, immunotherapy and antiangiogenesis therapy, which involves blocking the development of new blood vessels that feed cancer.
"These hold the promise of being much less toxic treatments that I think may render chemotherapy obsolete, but at the moment chemotherapy is the best that we've got for certain kinds of cancers," he said.
'Nervous' about Somers' treatment
Weil expressed reservations about the breast cancer treatment embraced by actress Suzanne Somers, who told King last month that she rejected chemotherapy in favor of the homeopathic drug Iscador.
Iscador is an extract of European mistletoe that has been used for many years in Germany and Switzerland, he said.
"My understanding is that in Germany no one represents Iscador as a cure for cancer," he said. "It is used as an adjunctive treatment to help stimulate the immune system and increase body defenses. So I would be nervous about relying on that as a primary treatment for breast cancer."
There's considerable polarization between cancer specialists and alternative medicine advocates, which can leave patients out in the cold, according to Weil, founder of the new National Integrative Medicine Council.
Many cancer patients taking alternative treatments are afraid to tell their oncologist, fearing that they will be ridiculed or told to stop, while alternative practitioners often discourage patients from doing chemotherapy or radiation, Weil added.
"There is a real need for doctors who are open-minded, who are trained, have feet in both worlds, and can help patients make the right decisions," he said.
'Great change' needed in medical education
Weil also expressed concern about the array of unregulated products in health food stores that may ineffective. He suggested doctors should be better-prepared to recommend herbs that could be used in conjunction with or instead of conventional drugs, and advise which are safe or unsafe.
"The problem is that our physicians are not trained in this way," he said. "They are not educated, nor are our pharmacists. So there needs to be a great change in professional education, so that we have new generations of doctors, pharmacists and nurses who are able to meet consumer needs."
Weil said taking vitamins is a good idea, even though people should be able to get most necessary nutrients from a balanced diet.
He recommends what he called a basic antioxidant formula containing vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and mixed carotenes, plus a B-complex to make sure you're getting enough folic acid.
"I think it is useful to take some vitamins and minerals as supplements, not as substitutes for the foods that contain them, but as insurance against gaps in your diet," he said.
Somers' cancer treatment worries some experts
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