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Farrah Fawcett's German Cancer Care

Actress, Ill With Anal Cancer, Had Treatment in Germany That's Not Approved in U.S.
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 15, 2009 -- Actress Farrah Fawcett's fight against anal cancer has included treatments in Germany that aren't approved in the U.S., sparking debate about cancer patients' options when they want more than what's approved by the FDA.

Fawcett, 62, was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006. 

Fawcett is "doing very well right now," Fawcett's doctor, Lawrence Piro, MD, told NBC's Today show. "She's obviously having a lot of side effects that come with cancer and come with cancer chemotherapy. And she's weak and she's spending a lot of time in bed and resting. But overall, she's in good spirits and she certainly still has her characteristic sense of humor, which is helping her get through all of this," said Piro, who is the president and CEO of The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Apart from her U.S. treatment, Fawcett has traveled to Germany six times seeking cancer treatment, actor Ryan O'Neal -- Fawcett's partner and the father of her son, Redmond -- recently told People. 

Treatments in Germany

Ursula Jacob of Germany's Alpenpark Clinic has treated Fawcett. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Jacob says that, in Germany, Fawcett was given "natural supplements and also immune treatments" that were tailored to her specific case.

Those treatments improved Fawcett's quality of life and "the tumor shrank in size and also the mass of the tumor shrank," Jacob said. "For a long time, two-and-a-half years, she was in really good shape."

Jacob recently flew to California to see Fawcett, but says she can't give Fawcett the care she got in Germany while Fawcett is in the U.S., because those treatments aren't FDA approved. The treatments, which Jacob didn't describe in detail, are "normal" in Europe, Jacob says.

Fawcett's friend, Alana Stewart, told the Access Hollywood reporter that Jacob was there "more to be a friend and a support to Farrah than to give treatments. She's under treatment by her American doctors."

Surgeon's View

Laurence R. Sands, MD, is associate professor of surgery and chief of colorectal surgery at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. He treats many anal cancer patients but isn't one of Fawcett's doctors.

Sands says some of his anal cancer patients have expressed interest in going to Europe to get mistletoe and other herbal treatments touted as boosting the immune system.

The theory, Sands says, is "if you bolster the immune system and make it vibrant, then you can kill off cancer cells." But Sands says that approach doesn't have solid scientific proof. "It's really based mostly in theory more than in science."

Sands says he tells his patients that such treatments shouldn't be used instead of standard medical treatments -- in the case of anal cancer, that's chemotherapy and radiation, and surgery if chemotherapy and radiation aren't enough.

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