Q&A Thursday With Geri Brewster: I Have A Family History Of Cancer, Is There Anything I Can Do To Prevent It?

February 2020

Q. I have a family history of cancer, is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A. Often in my practice, patients ask me about cancer prevention. They believe cancer is genetic, and while there may be a genetic predisposition to certain cancers, diet is what ultimately regulates and either turns off or turns on that gene expression. And, dietary factors can either prevent or enhance other cancer risk factors.  These are legitimate concerns. Just recently, according to a CNN report on February 17, 2020, in the next two decades, the world could see a 60% increase in the number of cancer cases, according to the World Health Organization.


Three steps toward improving your diet for cancer prevention

For cancer prevention, I recommend people examine their diet. They can begin with these three foundational components:


1.    How much alcohol they consume

2.    How much sugar and refined carbohydrates they consume  

3.    How many vegetables and fruit they consume


Simply put, alcohol and sugar increase cancer risk, as well as other inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. While studies indicate that certain amounts of these compounds are acceptable, excesses lead to disease. Unfortunately, no one appreciates what excess is anymore because we live in a land of plenty.  


Ditch the “all or nothing” mentality

I remind people to not approach dietary changes as an “all or nothing.” You cannot expect to be “bad” five days in a row with alcohol and sugar consumption and then think two days of being “good” will negate the cumulative effect of the cellular damage and oxidative stress imposed during the previous five days.  


Every day we need to make sure there is enough balance to stack the deck in our favor. If you have one glass of wine and one sweet indulgence, then balance it out the rest of the day with plenty of fresh produce, nuts and seeds, and clean, lean proteins to help your body be more forgiving. If you have already allowed yourself a donut in the office break room, then make sure your after dinner snack, if you are so inclined, is not another processed, refined carbohydrate or sugar. If you have a desire for something sweet, make sure to have some blueberries on hand. Blueberries are one example of an antioxidant-rich, low-glycemic fruit which helps to offset the inflammatory, disease-causing, cancer-producing compounds that make their way into our bodies from some of the other foods we eat.


My take-home messages are:


1.    Cut down on sugar and refined carbohydrates

2.    Cut down on alcohol

3.    Up your clean produce (link to clean 15)

4.    Aim for 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (a serving is 1 cup raw or a half-cup cooked)


If you have a hard time reaching your daily antioxidant potential, consider Juice Plus+. If you have any questions or would like additional information on this subject, please feel free to contact me at scheduling@geribrewster.com or 914-864-1976.




Connor, J. (2016). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222–228. doi: 10.1111/add.13477 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27442501 


Curtis, P. J., Van Der Velpen, V., Berends, L., Jennings, A., Feelisch, M., Umpleby, A. M., … Cassidy, A. (2019). Blueberries improve biomarkers of cardiometabolic function in participants with metabolic syndrome—results from a 6-month, double-blind, randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(6), 1535–1545. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy380 Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy380


Makarem, N., Bandera, E. V., Nicholson, J. M., & Parekh, N. (2018). Consumption of Sugars, Sugary Foods, and Sugary Beverages in Relation to Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. Annual Review of Nutrition, 38(1), 17–39. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-082117-051805 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29801420


Nimptsch, K., Zhang, X., Cassidy, A., Song, M., O’Reilly, É. J., Lin, J. H., … Wu, K. (2015). Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and risk of colorectal cancer in 2 large prospective cohorts1,2. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(1), 184–191. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.117507 Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.117507


Yu, G. (2020, February 17). Cancer cases on the rise globally, but not equally, WHO report says. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/17/health/cancer-burden-who-report/index.html



This blog was created with the assistance of Rosemarie Dias, MA DTR CHES