Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Coretta Scott King: A victim of alternative medicine?

As most people who have been following the news know, Coretta Scott King died early yesterday morning. What was not widely reported until last night is that she died seeking alternative therapies for her advanced ovarian cancer at a Mexican clinic, the Santa Monica Health Institute in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, south of San Diego:
ATLANTA - Coretta Scott King, who worked to keep her husband's dream alive with a chin-held-high grace and serenity that made her a powerful symbol of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s creed of brotherhood and nonviolence, died Tuesday. She was 78.

The "first lady of the civil rights movement" died in her sleep during the night at an alternative medicine clinic in Mexico, her family said. Arrangements were being made to fly the body back to Atlanta.

She had been recovering from a serious stroke and heart attack suffered last August. Just two weeks ago, she made her first public appearance in a year on the eve of her late husband's birthday.

Doctors at the clinic said King was battling advanced ovarian cancer when she arrived there on Thursday. The doctors said the cause of death was respiratory failure.
Looking at its website, I see that the Santa Monica Health Institute offers a hodge-podge of conventional cancer therapies (radiation, chemotherapy, antiangiogenesis) along with a lot of unproven and most likely useless therapies (Oncotox, "detoxification," hyperbaric oxygen, ultraviolet blood "purification," microwave hyperthermia, ozone saunas, and various nutritional supplements), plus at least one downright dangerous treatment modality, namely insulin potentiation therapy, which relies on intentionally inducing hypoglycemia with insulin and then administering glucose with "microdose" chemotherapy, the idea being that the cancer cell, which is more dependent on glucose than other sources of fuel, will preferentially take up the administered glucose and the "microdose" chemotherapy. There is no basis in science or clinical trials to think that this works, and it's potentially dangerous to induce hypoglycemia this way, putting the patient at risk for death or severe complications for no benefit.

I also can't help but take particular interest in how this clinic has coopted a treatment discovered through "conventional" medical and scientific techniques--antiangiogenesis--and claimed it as an "alternative" therapy. Ditto COX-2 inhibition, which is being actively studied for various cancers but is clearly not ready for prime time.

Given that King arrived at the clinic last Thursday, it's unknown whether she had had the chance to undergo any "alternative" therapies for her cancer by the time of her death or whether she simply died from her advanced disease. I have not yet been able to find out what specific therapy she had been seeking for her ovarian cancer.

It just goes to show that even the famous and accomplished can be taken in by the promises of promoters of unproven therapies.

ADDENDUM: A more detailed report can be found here, but it still doesn't say what treatment Coretta Scott King had been seeking.

ADDENDUM #2: Still more here:
The hospital's medical director, Humberto Seimandi, said King died of respiratory failure that was a result of medical complications. Those included a stroke and heart attack she suffered last year and the advanced ovarian cancer. One of her daughters was at her side at the time of her death.

No treatment at the clinic had been started before her death, he said.

“She had so many complications that we were actually just dealing with complications,” Seimandi said.
Which, of course, brings up the question as to why a woman who was clearly rapidly nearing the end would travel to such a clinic.

6 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 2/01/2006 8:07 PM, Blogger coturnix said...

Ha! Earlier today when I heard she died in Mexico after being told by the US docs that her cancer is terminal, I thought: "A-ha, I bet that a) she went to get some altie therapy and b) Orac will write about it tonight". Turns out, I was right on both counts.

 

At 2/02/2006 1:24 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Insulin potentiation therapy reminds me of Mick Farren's novel Underland. One of the characters, a rather nasty old man who is at the centre of various US intelligence goings on, likes to shoot women full of enough insulin to put them near death and then have sex with them.

 

At 2/02/2006 7:28 AM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Man, you're killing me - I take a blogbreak for a week to finish my grants and all of this altie fodder pops up. Heck, I'm just playing catch-up.

Re: your point about alties taking up cutting-edge conventional medicine and calling it their own: PharmGirl, MD, spent last night researching Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Although listed under conventional cancer treatments, they make their pharmacotherapies sound altie. For example, their immunotherapy or "biotherapy" approaches include "hematopoietic growth factors" and "monoclonal antibodies." Wow, have y'ever used any of those things in, say, the last 10 years?? And, oooh, their "new/innovative therapies" include "hormonal therapies" for breast cancer.

They do at least acknowledge that, "Surgery is the oldest form of treating cancer and can also have an important role in the diagnosis and staging cancer."

I'm sure you're relieved.

 

At 2/03/2006 10:16 AM, Blogger Nathan Williams said...

Today's NYTimes had an article about the clinic on page 3, and it was mentioned in the page 1 article about people turning to alternative medicine generally. Neither are as critical as you'd probably like, but they're less credulous than I was afraid they'd be.

 

At 2/06/2006 12:35 AM, Anonymous The Medical Blog Network said...

Trust (or lack thereof) has been identified as a critical issue driving people to quacks. NY Times says that too. But it is important to look at the real causes and consider practical solutions:

Trust: Traditional or Electronic, A Doctor-Patient Relationship Starts There

 

At 2/10/2006 2:54 PM, Anonymous alternative health said...

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