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Anthony J. Sattilaro (Biography)
About Anthony J. Sattilaro, M.D. by Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
Anthony J. Sattilaro, M.D., was president of Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia and became perhaps the most famous advocate of the use of diet against cancer. In his best-selling book Recalled by Life,16 he raised the question as to whether diet can turn the tide on cancer, and the fact that there was simply not enough information yet available to speak with assurance.
Dr. Sattilaro was a young man when he was found to have prostate cancer. By the time it was diagnosed, it had spread throughout his body. Surgical removal was impossible; there was nothing for him to do but to get his affairs in order.
By chance, he happened to meet some young people who were advocates of macrobiotics, which is essentially a traditional Asian diet including generous amounts of rice and vegetables. There is a wealth of literature drawn from Asian traditional medicine on using diet in dealing with cancer and many other health problems. Although Dr. Sattilaro was skeptical and initially taken aback by the idea of such a radical change in his diet, he felt he had nothing to lose. He began a macrobiotic program with the same rigidity that he had applied to his medical career. And as his book described, his symptoms began to fade. Before long, all trace of the cancer, including that on his X-rays, disappeared.
There were no double-blind studies, no control patients, or anything else that would suggest that what happened to Dr. Sattilaro will happen for anyone else, although there is a large cadre of people who report similar results.
I became interested in Dr. Sattilaro's story, so I went in search of him. He had resigned his job as head of Methodist Hospital and had moved to Florida. I met him in 1986. He was not only alive ten years after his anticipated death, but youthful and vigorous. He had adhered to the macrobiotic diet and adopted a specific exercise program. He went swimming every day. His cancer seemed to be gone, and he kept X-ray films in a file for when he needed to remind himself of his remission. Dr. Sattilaro had been deluged with letters from other cancer patients, but always answered that he did not know if what had happened to him could also happen for them. He was not even sure that his dietary program should get the credit.
Eventually, he began to deviate from the diet, adding fish and chicken, as if to test whether he was cured or simply in remission. If it was a test, he failed. In July 1989, I called Dr. Sattilaro and found him to be gravely ill. His cancer had recurred—"viciously," he said. He was in good spirits, but harbored no illusions about the grim situation he was in. He knew that the end was very near. He had resumed the use of painkillers, which at times made him quite groggy.
Can the regimen he followed be given credit for his decade-long reprieve from cancer? Did his deviation from the diet compromise his defenses against cancer? These are questions that, while intriguing, are not answerable.
For the patient contemplating surgery, doctors are often less aggressive than for other cancers. This is partly because prostate surgery can cause a lot of problems, at least in the short term. Incontinence can last for weeks and is permanent in a small percentage of cases.17 Damage to nerves and arteries during surgery often causes impotence, although in some cases the nerves and arteries can be spared.18 Doctors realize that prostate cancer often advances very slowly. Most patients live many years whether they have surgery or not, and some researchers believe that surgery does not always change the long-term odds very much.19
It is essential to tailor your treatment to your specific condition, taking advantage of a second opinion if necessary. Doctors may recommend observation alone, particularly for older men whose tumors are small and less aggressive, as determined by biopsy results.20 If surgery is deferred, the physician can periodically monitor levels of PSA, prostate-specific antigen, which indicates changes in the tumor.
Books by Anthony J. Sattilaro