The Mystery Behind Alternative Cancer Treatment

Is this a last-ditch attempt for a cure?

ByABC News
October 3, 2007, 9:56 AM

Oct. 3, 2007 — -- Actress Farrah Fawcett and the late Coretta Scott King are among the thousands of people who have turned to alternative approaches to cancer treatment when conventional medicine has failed.

It's often a last-ditch attempt to find a cure, one that brings the patient into a murky world of offshore clinics and unproven courses of treatment that are scorned by the medical establishment.

"I would [tell a patient considering alternative treatment] that they are signing their own death certificate," said Barrie Cassileth, chief of the Integrative Medicine Department at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Cassileth has not treated Fawcett. "I would say they are wasting time they could otherwise spend happier and with their families."

Fawcett, who was first diagnosed with anal cancer in September 2006, went into remission for several months after receiving traditional cancer treatments in California. In May 2007, however, Fawcett's cancer returned.

Anal cancer, according to Anil K. Rustgi, the chief of gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania, is fairly uncommon in the United States and is often associated with the human papillomavirus virus, or HPV.

According to, Fawcett, 60, was "disheartened" by both the reoccurrence of the cancer and the treatment she was receiving in the United States, so she traveled to Germany's University Clinic in Frankfurt in search of an alternative course of treatment.

Calls to Fawcett's publicist regarding what specific treatment the star will be receiving were not returned.

Fawcett joins a number of other high-profile patients who have sought often unproven techniques in countries outside the United States to beat cancer.

King, the widow of Martin Luther King, traveled to a cancer clinic called Hospital Santa Monica, in Tijuana, Mexico, in search of a cure for ovarian cancer. King died just a few days later.

Actor Steve McQueen also went to Mexico in 1980 hoping to find a cure for his mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.