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Fast forward to the 21st century, where Somers, who played the ditzy blonde in TV's "Three's Company," has written a series of books making that point. In "Ageless," she argued that doctors don't understand women's bodies, especially those going through menopause.
With so-called "bioidentical" hormones -- compounds that are custom-mixed by special pharmacies -- Somers argued that women can restore youthfulness and vitality, energy and vigor, not to mention their sex drive.
The problem, for many doctors: These custom-compounded products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Somers, whose hormone regimen involves creams, injections and some 60 supplements daily, got a huge boost earlier this year from Oprah Winfrey. "Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," Winfrey said when Somers appeared on her show. "But she just might be a pioneer."
Yet Winfrey's tacit support of Somers gave her some of the worst press of her career. "Crazy Talk," Newsweek headlined an article on the talk show host earlier this year. Another headline, on Salon.com: "Oprah's Bad Medicine."
Winfrey responded in a statement that her viewers know that "the medical information presented on the show is just that -- information -- not an endorsement or prescription." But many doctors feel Winfrey has more of a responsibility to her viewers.
"Oprah, how could you? That's all I can say," says Dr. Nanette Santoro, a hormone specialist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Somers is now hoping for a return invitation to Winfrey's hugely influential stage to discuss her cancer book. Her theories on chemotherapy did get one bit of attention she could have done without, though: The actress had to apologize recently when her offhand comment that chemo had likely killed actor Patrick Swayze, rather than his pancreatic cancer, made tabloid headlines.
"I shouldn't have said anything," Somers says now. "I apologized to his family. But she adds: "We all know that chemotherapy does nothing for pancreatic cancer."
In fact, Somers does view chemotherapy as effective for some cancers, but not for the most common, including lung and breast cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago, she had a lumpectomy and radiation, but declined chemotherapy, as she did more recently when briefly misdiagnosed with pervasive cancer.
One criticism sure to come up with Somers' cancer book is its reliance on several doctors who have controversial histories, including Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski in Houston, who has devised his own alternative cancer treatments and has had protracted legal battles with the FDA.
But Somers defends him passionately, as she does the other doctors interviewed in her book. As for herself, she says, she is at ease with her role as celebrity health guru.
"Celebrities are easy to pick on," Somers says. "But I don't have an agenda. I'm just a passionate lay person. And I'm using my celebrity to do something good for people."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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