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SMG News

Simple Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Last updated: Apr 22, 2019

As appears in: Montclair Local

This series is written by practitioners at Summit Medical Group (SMG) on health-related topics. This month’s author is family physician, Dr. Melissa Berlin who practices in Glen Ridge.

Simple Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Almost a year ago, I lost my best friend to colon cancer. When I looked at the calendar, I realized the anniversary of his death was the same day I was scheduled to speak with the community about cancer prevention at the Montclair Public Library. It felt like a fitting way to honor his legacy. My friend’s passing has inspired me to do everything I can to stay healthy for my four beautiful children and share that knowledge with others.

Some 40 to 50 percent of all cancers in the U.S. can be prevented. Cancer is caused by a variety of factors from mutated genes to toxins in the environment and even certain viruses. Some ways to prevent cancer are obvious: quit smoking, go for regular screenings, and stay out of the sun.

But what most of my patients do not know is that being obese is an equally major risk factor for developing cancer. While obesity is usually thought of as the culprit behind heart disease and diabetes, it is also linked to 12 different types of cancers. Fat cells do not just lay dormant—they secrete toxic chemicals that can wreak havoc on the body. Over the last decade, a growing body of research has shown that one of the most important steps you can take to prevent cancer are to maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious foods, and exercise regularly. 

Shortly after my friend’s death, I was four months post-partum and still carrying around the extra baby weight. I decided it was time to make a big life change. I joined a gym that had interval group training and dramatically changed my diet. A year later, I had lost 25 pounds.

As a physician and a mom with four kids under the age of nine, I understand that diet and exercise are not easy. My advice is to find a way to make working out manageable for you. As soon as I get home, I change into my gym clothes. Once the kids are in bed, I head out to my class. To reduce your risk, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.

For me, the key to healthy eating is meal planning and prep. On Sunday, I try to cook large batches of healthy dinners that will last for the entire week. When I think ahead it is easier to avoid processed foods, takeout, and red meats.

Eating a plant-based diet can protect you against cancer. Fill your plate with veggies, fruits, and whole grains. I also bring a bag of nutritious snacks, such as hard boiled eggs and cucumbers, with hummus, with me to work. 

Staying up-to-date with screenings is another important step. If you do not have a family history of cancer, both men and women should have your first colonoscopy at age 50. While colonoscopy is preferred since it can detect both cancers and polyps which could turn into cancer in the future, there are other options for colon cancer screening such as stool tests that you can discuss with your doctor.

Women ages 21-65 should have a Pap smear every three years; after age 30 the interval can be every five years if co-testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV). Even if you are not due for a Pap test, you should still visit your gynecologist yearly.  Annual or biennial mammograms are recommended for women beginning at age 50.  Although women who are at increased risk based on personal health factors or family history should be evaluated on an individual basis.

If you get significant sun exposure or have fair skin, you should have a yearly skin check. And, if you are between the ages of 55-80 and you currently smoke, quit smoking within the last 15 years and have smoked at least one pack per day for 30 years, you qualify for a Low-Dose Cat Scan (LDCT) to screen for lung cancer. An LDCT is recommended every year for three or more consecutive years depending on the results.

There are also two vaccines you should know about. Gardasil-9, which is recommended at age 11 but can be given up to age 45, protects against 90 percent of all cervical cancers, as well as some vaginal, anal, head, and neck cancers, caused by HPV. The hepatitis B vaccine, which you probably had as a baby, also protects against liver cancer.

There are no guarantees in life. You can be the picture of good health and still get cancer. But if you keep your weight in check and eat healthy foods, the chances swing way in your favor.


Join Dr. Melissa Berlin and Summit Medical Group oncology specialists at a community lecture on ways to reduce your risk of getting cancer. 

What: Simple Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

Presenters: Melissa Berlin, MD, Family Medicine; Constance Gore, RN-APN, Oncology; Christina Lavner, RD, Oncology

When: Saturday, May 18, 2019 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Where: Montclair Public Library, 50 S. Fullerton Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042

Reservations are required: Click Here or 908-277-888