What Cancer Docs Do to Protect Themselves From Cancer

Zosia Chustecka

August 30, 2017

Clinicians who see patients with cancer on a regular basis are reminded daily of the ravages of this disease — so what do they do to protect themselves?

A glimpse is provided by a feature in Men's Health, a consumer magazine that at the same time provides a direct route for readers to buy some of the types of products that are mentioned.  

Cancer societies are continually urging the general public to minimize their risk for cancer by making lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight, and by taking simple precautions, such as using sunscreen. 

The snapshot of clinician responses shows that several emphasized diet, and also sunscreen, while others highlighted approaches backed by medical evidence (such as low-dose aspirin). But there were also some who responded with approaches that are somewhat less scientifically grounded (such as green tea).

Among the clinicians featured in the magazine were:

  • Philippe Spiess, MD, a genitourinary oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, emphasizes diet, particularly eating vegetables and fiber. He gives a recipe for "power egg breakfast wrap" made by cooking frozen spinach with an egg and extra egg white, combined with a bit of cheese, avocado, and hot sauce in a whole-wheat wrap.

  • Matthew Yurgelun, MD, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, recommends eating nuts as a snack.  "It's a great way to quell hunger and keep me from snacking on fatty or sugary foods that can contribute to weight gain and obesity-related diseases, such as cancer," he says.

  • Christopher Saigal, MD, a urologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, recommends eating fish and not meat. "I tell patients that 'heart healthy' foods have been associated with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer and a lower risk of progression of prostate cancer after diagnosis," he says. In addition, red and processed meats have been linked with colorectal cancer.

  • Joseph Sobanko, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,  uses a generic broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide every morning; he shuts his eyes and sprays an even coat on his face after he brushes his teeth and combs his hair.

  • Anthony Rossi, MD, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, takes the vitamin B3 supplement nicotinamide. (A recent study from Australia showed that oral nicotinamide reduced nonmelanoma skin cancer.)

  • Daniel Rosenberg, PhD, director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program at University of Connecticut Health, Farmington, recommends taking low-dose aspirin (81 mg daily). (Several studies have shown that long-term aspirin use reduces the risk for cancer, and the US Preventive Services Task Force now recommends aspirin for prevention of both cardiovascular disease and cancer.)

  • Keith McCrae, MD, an oncologist with Cleveland Clinic Cancer Institute, Ohio, emphasizes exercise — he cycles 25 to 30 miles most weekdays, and more on weekends.

  • June Chan, ScD, professor of urology at University of California in San Francisco, reported that she avoids plastics when packing food and carries her salad (kale, feta, pumpkin seeds, raisins) in a mason jar.

  • Alan Wan, DO, a medical oncologist at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, DeKalb, Illinois, starts each day with green tea, which contains antioxidants.

  • Nelson Bennett, MD, a urologist from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, recommends reducing stress by taking time out to sit still and calm down. He describes how he sits with the door closed, phone silenced, inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling from the mouth 10 times, with eyes closed. "Close your eyes and notice the sounds around you — even the hum of fluorescent lights. Then bring your thoughts to your breaths. Don't worry if your mind wanders."

Please use the comments function to share your approach to cancer prevention — what do you do personally to minimize risk, and what do you tell your patients?

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