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Doctor-author asks why Suzanne Somers continues to be given a media platform

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Dr. Barron Lerner has written a book about breast cancer – “Breast Cancer Wars : Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America.” And he’s written a book about celebrity patients – “When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine.”

He wed the two topics in a blog post on the New York Times health blog, entitled “Suzanne Somers, Cancer Expert.” Excerpts:

“Earlier this week, NBC’s “Dateline” devoted an entire hour on Sunday evening to allow the actress Suzanne Somers to express her rather unconventional beliefs about cancer.

It is not the first time a major media outlet has given air time to Ms. Somers, whose journey into the medical realm has been featured on a variety of news programs, talk shows and entertainment channels. A few years ago, Oprah Winfrey invited Ms. Somers on her show to share the secrets behind her youthful appearance — a complex regimen of unregulated hormone creams and some 60 vitamins and supplements.

But is it entirely outrageous that respected media organizations continue to give the “Three’s Company” sitcom star a platform to dispense medical advice? Not really, in a world in which celebrities have become among the most recognizable spokespeople — and sometimes experts — about various diseases.

…patients — especially those who want to explore every possible avenue — have the right to know that there are unorthodox cancer therapies that some people believe are helpful.

But not without several caveats, and that is where Ms. Somers, and many of those in the media who discuss her books and views, have failed. Ms. Somers says she is promoting hope, but false hope benefits no one.

Many people with end-stage cancer are, understandably, desperate, and thus potentially vulnerable to a sales pitch — even an expensive one. But here is a case when an informed patient may truly be a wiser patient. Perhaps if doctors were more willing to address the fact that these nontraditional treatments exist, and share what we do and don’t know about their effectiveness, an actress like Ms. Somers would have less influence, and science would override celebrity.”

There’s been quite an online response to the blog post. One reader wrote, succinctly:

“From Thigh Master to Snake Oil.”

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Gregory D. Pawelski

February 25, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Perhaps if doctors were more willing to address the fact that these nontraditional treatments exist, and share what we do and don’t know about their effectiveness, an actress like Ms. Somers would have less influence, and science would override celebrity. An informed patient IS a wiser patient.
Suzanne Somers, Cancer Expert. A “podiatrist” became a noted “expert” on brain cancer. He experienced working through, enduring and surviving his sister’s bout with GBM brain cancer (one of the most serious brain tumors with a very high mortality rate) for nine years (via chemosensitivity testing). She “lived” because they matched the right chemo drug for the tumor type and individual patient.
He now heads up the very successful Musella Foundation for brain cancer. I’m sure this podiatrist would love to have the notoriety as Ms. Somers, but nonetheless, he IS a brain cancer expert.