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Somers' cancer treatment worries some experts

Suzanne Somers
Suzanne Somers  

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Drug is unproven

'Not a magic bullet'

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- When actress Suzanne Somers revealed Wednesday that she's using a homeopathic drug to treat her breast cancer, she acknowledged that it may not be for everyone.

"I just want to say that this is what I'm doing for me. I'm not telling anybody else to do this," she told CNN's Larry King.

But some breast cancer experts worry that other cancer patients will follow her example in cases where it might not be appropriate.

"The implication is it's just as good and that it's just as proven and that somehow it is an alternative, a viable alternative to chemotherapy, and that's really not so right now," said Dr. Susan Love of the Susan Love MD Breast Cancer Foundation.

Drug is unproven

Somers said she has undergone radiation treatment for the cancer, but she rejected chemotherapy in favor of a drug called Iscador. The drug, which uses extracts of mistletoe, has been used in Europe and Asia but has not undergone clinical trials in the United States.

Somers' doctors, Mel Silverstein and James Waisman of the USC-Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, told CNN that alternative therapies in similar cases should not be pursued in lieu of conventional treatment.

"We don't know if they're harmful, and if the patients take them in place of other proven treatments, they are potentially being denied the benefit of that treatment," Waisman said.

Silverstein agreed.

"As a general rule, it's a bad idea to do them in place of standard therapy," he said.

Somers' doctors would not discuss her particular case.

'Not a magic bullet'

But some doctors do believe alternative therapies can be used to complement conventional therapies, in consultation with a medical doctor.

"I can't discourage people from taking complementary therapy because I don't have enough data to say they're not helpful, too," oncologist Christy Russell said. "And I think when people are fighting for their life, I'm not going to make judgments on them with regards to everything they want to take."

Even advocates for alternative medicine caution those who might seek a cure-all in one alternative treatment.

"You do not look at one product like Iscador and expect to reverse cancer," Burton Goldberg of Alternative Medicine magazine. "It is not a magic bullet. Alternative physicians have to look at the multiple causes of cancer, and they use multiple therapies in reversing the system.

Suzanne Somers reveals she has breast cancer
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March 8, 2001
Study: Veggies won't cut breast cancer risk
February 13, 2001
Hormone-replacement therapy and breast cancer
May 26, 1999

Alternative Medicine
CMAJ - Canadian Medical Association Journal - Iscador
Susan Love MD Breast Cancer Foundation
USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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