Lifestyle and cancer: What cancer experts say (w/VIDEO)

May 22, 2015 | by Valerie Zapanta

The connection between lifestyle and cancer is real. Knowing that, what can individuals do to lower their risk? City of Hope physicians recently came together to answer that precise question, explaining the links between cancer and the choices we make that affect our health. Moderator Vijay Trisal M.D., medical director of City of Hope's community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology, led the discussion. The featured panelists were Suzy Melkonian, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Santa Clarita and Mission Hills; Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Simi Valley; and Wei-Chien Michael Lin, M.D., associate clinical professor at City of Hope | Mission Hills. Below are a couple of questions and responses addressed by the panelists.Who or what is to blame for cancer? Are there changes we can make? There are environmental and lifestyle changes that we can make. Tobacco is at the very top of the list of preventable behaviors; obesity is associated with many, many malignancies, and an estimated 3.45 percent of cancer deaths annually are due to obesity. There are a number of other things, like nutrition, vitamins, exercise, vaccines and stress. So there are a number of behavioral changes that we can make, and manipulate to our advantage. – Suzy Melkonian, M.D. I smoked 20 years ago but quit. Do I still have a high risk of cancer? The minute you stop smoking, your risk of certain diseases decreases and starts to approach the level of people who have never smoked – this is really true for heart disease. But you can still get malignancies, because the damage to the DNA already happened. So lung cancer can still happen; head and neck cancer can still happen; emphysema can still happen. So all of those things can still happen even if you quit 20 years ago, but your risks do decrease. – Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D. How much is too much alcohol to increase the risk of cancer? Everybody has a different group of risk factors. If someone has a very strong family history of cancer or is a smoker, I never recommend it. But a lot of people have a very strong family history of heart disease, and they are being told to, yes, have a glass of wine. But we really have to be very judicious here and not militant, because certainly for some people, maybe their risk of heart disease is higher than their risk of cancer or vice versa. We still have quite a lot to know about that. But usually for breast cancer patients, I do recommend they abstain from alcohol if at all possible, just because a very small amount seems to increase the risk. – Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D. What about medical marijuana when one has cancer? Marijuana for nausea, appetite stimulation, anorexia, when people have no appetite, their taste buds are gone, they are not feeling well, they are losing weight precipitously ... then yes, you need to talk to them about things to stimulate their appetite, and marijuana is on the list of drugs. There are some studies that say it helps with neuropathic pain, and it augments pain medication. It is not something I would give just for pain, but I would give it for nausea primarily, and anorexia. – Suzy Melkonian, M.D. ** Watch the “Cancer Urban Legends: Lifestyle” presentation above to hear the full conversation. You can also watch past Ask the Experts programs on City of Hope's YouTube channel. *** Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673)You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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