Sloan-Kettering and Weil on Alternative Cancer Treatments

Sloan-Kettering and Weil on Alternative Cancer Treatments

A representative from Sloan-Kettering and Andrew Weil were consulted regarding alternative treatments for cancer on Dateline NBC last night (2/20/11) in an episode called “Suzanne Sommers:  A Dose of Controversy.”

The focus was on two of the physicians featured in Sommer’s book “Knockout” which discusses alternative and controversial treatments for cancer patients.   While Sommers may (or may not) be off base on some things in her book, I was horrified and deeply disappointed by statements that Andrew Weil and the representative from Sloan-Kettering made regarding what is and is not beneficial in cancer treatment.It’s important to realize that “editing” does play a part in what we see on TV programs like “Dateline NBC” – but overall, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, did a pretty good job of NOT skewing the report in one direction or the other.

Dr. Andrew Weil – Disappoints Again

Weil Interview with Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC

Sometime last year my father came to me with a copy of his Andrew Weil newsletter where Dr. Weil had taken a position on water ionizers and the benefit (or lack thereof, in his opinion) of alkaline ionized water.  He stated no research that he had done and as far as I know, he made no contact with anyone in the water ionizer industry while forming his conclusions.  Still, he advised the masses who receive his newsletter that an investment in a water ionizer was a waste.

In his interview with Nancy Snyderman of NBC, Dr. Weil refers to the alternative treatments offered by the physicians discussed in Sommers’ book as “just plain wrong.”  He acknowledges that they are “clever” and “look good on paper” but goes on to say that these are not ideas that “you can prove to be correct.”

While I am not here to endorse any of the alternative therapies offered by the doctors profiled in the report, these doctors do have patients who have lived long past the prognosis given by the physicians who were treating them originally.  But according to mainstream medicine, that doesn’t count as proof – those patients may have been misdiagnosed or something else may have caused their cancer to go into remission.  That’s a scary thought right there – a misdiagnosis of cancer that leads you to radiation and/or chemotherapy when there was no cancer.  Still – while there may be “no proof” that these treatments work, there appears to be an equal lack of proof that they do NOT work.

In fact, according to the DateLine report, the two doctors whose treatments were profiled were both at risk of losing their licenses to practice.  Both were thoroughly investigated and in both cases, charges of any wrongdoing were dropped.

In one case, Cancer Specialist Dr. Julian Hyman, hired by the New York State Medical Board to monitor the treatments and practices of one of these “alternative” physicians walked away with a changed perspective.  Skeptical at the beginning, after spending time monitoring the treatments offered Dr. Hyman comments  “I ended up appreciating a lot of the things that they do…. in other words I would say there is a place for Dr. Gonzales’ practice of medicine combined with the medicine that is standard today.”

That’s a far stretch from Dr. Weil’s assessment of “just plain wrong.”

Another statement made by Dr. Weil that was surprising to me was his classification of coffee enemas (part of one of the alternative cancer treatment regimens)  as “an old hippie treatment” that he put in his “hippie nonsense” file.  If you’ve never heard of “coffee enemas,” as Dr. Weil states they have been along for a long time.  When used as an enema, coffee stimulates the opening of the bile ducts in the liver and allows toxins to be released.  Anyone who has gone through a coffee enema regimen will have some interesting stories to tell about the results – most will include increased energy levels, improved immune system as well as relief from chronic illnesses.

The DateLine NBC website has an extended interview with Dr. Weil where he goes on to say that the lack of willingness on the part of most oncologists to use treatments outside the mainstream stems from lack of education.  He also points out that in China, cancer treatments are “integrative.”  Patients receive both traditional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy but also receive other treatments like “botanicals” to help the body fight the disease.


Dr. Barrie Cassileth of Sloan-Kettering

Dr. Barrie Cassileth, Cheif of Integrative Medical Services for Memorial Sloan-Kettering was far more outspoken in her criticism of Dr. Burzinksy (one of the doctors featured in Sommer’s book “Knockout”) claiming that his successes were “anectdotal.”

When asked by NBC interviewer Dr. Nancy Snyderman “but don’t anecdotes matter?” Dr. Cassileth repies “No.  Anecdotes don’t matter.”

“Seriously?”  – that was Dr. Snyderman’s response to the comment – “Seriously?  If you see Burzinsky and your tumor is made better, are you telling me that your story doesn’t matter?”

Dr. Cassileth doesn’t seem to hesitate in her reply “No.  My story doesn’t matter.  How about other people who saw Burzinsky and are dead?  That is the context in which we have to understand these kind of anecdotes.”

Okay Dr. Cassileth – then how about the people who chose to undergo treatment at a Sloan-Kettering facility or with a traditional oncologist and are now dead?  In which context should we see these “anecdotes?”

But of all the interview footage with Dr. Cassileth, the few seconds that was most shocking to me was when she appeared to deny that nutrition had nothing to do with treating cancer.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman asks:  “Coffee enemas, pig pancreas enzymes, special diet – is there any role for those in curing cancer?”

Dr. Cassileth’s response:  “Not in my view.  And believe me, I would be totally open to any of those or all of those if they were commonsensical, and more importantly, if there were some data behind them, but there is not.  There is absolutely not.”

Really, Dr. Cassileth?  No data behind any of them?

A study published in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association evaluated the potential benefits of diet with regard to survival rates of ovarian cancer patients.  The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago which concluded that “there is a strong relationship between healthy eating and prolonged survival.”  Specifically significant were the amount of fruits, vegetables and grains consumed.

A 2006 study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that recurrence of breast cancer was lower in women with reduced intake of certain foods.

There are more out there – and add to that the countless studies which found that certain dietary factors increased risk of certain cancers.  So certain foods can increase your risk of cancer but dietary changes offer no benefit in treatment of cancer?  And if diet has no impact on cancer treatment, why is “Nutrition” listed as one of the integrative treatment services offered by Sloan-Kettering?

You can see Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s extended interview with Dr. Barrie Cassileth at the Dateline NBC website.


While I don’t endorse the treatments or practices of Dr. Burzinsky or Dr. Gonzales or any of the other doctors or alternative therapies found in Suzanne Sommers’ book “Knockout,” it appears that there is a “prejudice” in mainstream medicine against alternative therapies.  In her interview with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, when asked why she felt mainstream doctors were reluctant to accept doctors like Burzinsky and Gonzales and their alternative treatments, Sommers replied “Jealousy.  They’re jealous.”

I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment either – perhaps it was the first thing that popped into her mind when she heard the question – but I believe a clear argument can be made that there is an overall lack of willingness on the part of “traditional medicine” to look outside their own box.

Alkaline ionized water is just another “therapy” that many are choosing to use as part of their overall treatment for cancer and other diseases.  No one (at least no one acting responsibly) is claiming that drinking alkaline ionized water will cure cancer.  But many are using it as part of their overall treatment program and many are seeing results.  Yet most individuals who ask their doctor or oncologist about the water are told it’s a waste of time or a waste of money or it may actually be harmful.  I’m sure Dr. Weil would simply say “it’s just plain wrong.”

Bottom line – whether it’s cancer or another disease or illness, the patient has the final word.  Do your homework.  Don’t accept what your doctor says as “the only way” to treat what you have.  Explore your options.  Get other opinions.  There are a vast number of well respected “alternative” and integrative medical centers – most have websites with online resources.  Do your homework.  It’s your body – your health.  Ultimately, your course of treatment is your decision.