TRIP TO GERMANY
Before the memories fade, I want to record my impressions of my trip to Germany in October-November, 1997.
I was invited to speak at the meeting of the German Society for Oncology (Deutsche Geselleschaft für Onkologie, or DGO). The meeting is held every year in the spa city of Baden-Baden and is a well-known event in cancer circles. But I was hardly prepared for what I found: the whole town is virtually taken over by alternative/complementary medicine practitioners for a week. It is called "Medizinische Woche," and it includes meetings not just of the DGO but of the Hyperthermia Society and many other holistically oriented groups. The event is endorsed and embraced by the local government as a source of pride (and revenue).
Complementary medicine has a special place in Germany. "Phytomedicine" (herbal medicine) is taught in the medical schools, and such items as St. John's Wort, Valerian and Echinacea are commonly "prescribed" instead of synthetic drugs. In cancer, there is tremendous interest in utilizing the immune system through either non-specific stimuli or through active specific vaccines to combat the disease. Doctors have more freedom in Germany than in the United States, and there are numerous "Kliniks" (which are often actually in-patient hospitals) serving the cancer patient. At first sight, it is a bit miraculous for the American observer.
The DGO has grown in numbers and strength since it was founded by a small group of holistically oriented doctors almost 30 years ago. Today, I am told, it is larger than the more conventional group of chemotherapy-oriented oncologists who meet separately. The meeting is held at the modern conventional hall (Kongresshaus) in the center of town. There were dozens of fascinating displays, a huge bookstore filled with titles that most Americans know nothing about, and an atmosphere that was dignified and serious.
The DGO meeting took place over two days. My talk on "The Limitations of Chemotherapy" was in English, but was expertly translted into German for the audience of several hundred. It coincided with the publication of my book Questioning Chemotherapy in Germany. Karl F. Haug Verlag of Heidelberg brought out a really lovely edition, titled "Fragwürtige Chemotherapie: Entscheidungshilfen für die Kresbehandlung" (ISBN 3-7760-1660-4). Happily, their stock of the book sold out during the course of the weekend. The introduction to my bookand my speechwere made by Hans Nieper, M.D. of Hannover. Dr. Nieper was a founder of the DGO many years ago. He and I have known each other for over 20 years, since he was involved in trying to prod Sloan-Kettering Institute forward back in the old days.
In his introduction to the book, Dr. Nieper generously wrote that "Questioning Chemotherapy is a masterpiece of global importance in the history of medicine. It provides a very simple, clear and indisputable panorama of facts. It is recommended reading for every doctor and in particular for every oncologist...Questioning Chemotherapy is a superb oeuvre opening the gateway for a more humane, more efficacious, and far less expensive therapy of cancer in the future."
It is no exaggeration to say that Questioning Chemotherapy is receiving a friendly hearing from German doctors than it has from American! Germans seem ready for the message that the claims made for cytotoxic treatments have been overblown, and new approaches are desperately needed. In any case, I was certainly made to feel quite welcome and at home. In fact, after the speech, Dr. Josef Beuth, M.D., president of the DGO, invited me to become an Honorary Member of the Society. I am the first American to be so honored in 27 years.
The principles of the Society are two-fold, he explained. First of all, he stressed that the methods under discussion (such as mistletoe therapy, hyperthermia, etc.) were viewed as complementary to conventional methods, such as surgery. The second was a strict adherence to the principles of science, to the scientific method. The answer to the confusion that exists in "alternative medicine" today is to perform fair and competent scientific studies of such methods. Dr. Beuth is in the forefront of those carrying out such studies. He is a professor at the University of Cologne (Köln). As a check of Medline makes clear, he has about 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers to his credit and has done outstanding work in explaining the mechanism of action of some of the lectins found in the mistletoe plant. In my opinion, the DGO is extremely lucky to have such an accomplished academic scientist at its helm.
I was also impressed with many of the other German scientists that I met at the meeting. I had friendly meetings with old friends, such as Dr. Dieter Hager and Dr. Nieper. But I also made many new friends, too many to even mention. Some of these were Dr. Friedrich Douwes; the physicist Prof. Andreas Szasz of Budapest, who has designed some very advanced hyperthermia equipment; Matthias Rostck of the Klinik für Tumorbiologie in Freiburg im Breisgau; Prof Dr. med Wolfgang Köstler, vice president of the Austrian Society of Oncology; Dr. med Gyorgy Irmey, medical director of the large patient-oriented group, the Gesellschaft für Biologische Krebsabwehr e.V., and Jennie Burke, director of the Australian group, Australian Biologics.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience.I thank my German hosts and I hope to go back to Baden-Baden every year.