Supermom Saves the World by Melanie Lynn Hauser

Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer

by Lynne Eldridge and David Borgeson

Published by Beaver’s Pond Press

233 pages, 2007



Resistance is Not Futile

Reviewed by Mary Ward Menke 

I’m not sure I would have willingly picked up Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer, had the publisher not sent it to be considered fo review consideration. While I do like reading about medical topics, I also believe that the more you think about something -- negative or positive -- the more likely it is to manifest itself in your life. So when it comes to talking or reading about cancer, I tend to put my hands over my ears, close my eyes and shout, “I can’t hear you!”

I’m glad I responded to the call of duty, though. I found Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time to be a well-written, conversational and informative discussion. The sibling authors (she’s a medical doctor who devotes herself full-time to researching and speaking about cancer prevention and nutrition; he’s an epidemiologist, research scientist and physical therapist who emphasizes health promotion in his clinical practice) offer practical advice on what individuals can avoid or stop doing to ward off the “Big C.” And their advice isn’t solely of the hard-and-fast “do this, don’t do that” variety; it’s tempered with the instruction to maintain perspective:

Our hope is to provide information to help people enjoy a healthy life and lifestyle and have fun. If we observe someone chain smoking or numbing their mind with martinis because his or her children had nitrate-laden hot dogs for lunch, our point will be lost. If we witness our readers embracing a few points but perhaps disregarding others, our goal will be achieved.

That’s advice I can live with.

Readers are assisted in their quest to pick and choose which advice to follow by an overview of the distribution of causes of cancer; i.e., “five to twenty percent of cancer deaths are due to inherited mutations,” while “80-95 percent are due to an inherited mutation combined with environment.” The environmental factors include tobacco (25-40 percent); diet and obesity (25-30 percent); infection (10-15 percent), ionizing/UV radiation (2-7 percent); occupational (2-8 percent); pollution and environmental chemicals (less than 1 to 5 percent); physical inactivity (1-2 percent) and alcohol (3 percent).

The “Cancer Prevention IQ Pretest” in Chapter 2 is a thought-provoking introduction to the book. Some of the questions are obvious: “Have you had your home tested for radon, knowing that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and that excess levels are found in one out of fifteen homes?” Others are more of the “What’s that got to do with anything?” variety; for example, “Do you sleep in total darkness?” and “Do you have an active spiritual life?”

As it turns out, sleeping in total darkness is strongly suggested because light -- even from a night light -- suppresses melatonin secretion. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland, decreases the production of estrogen, “possibly explaining why a longer duration of sleep guards against breast cancer.”

Production of melatonin is maximal in total darkness. In one study, completely blind women had a 36 percent decreased risk of developing breast cancer (Kliekene, 2001). This rose to a 70 percent reduction in a later study. Women who work night shifts have a higher incidence of breast cancer (Schernhammer, 2001; Schernhammer, 2006). ... However, studies looking at the association between melatonin and breast cancer have been inconsistent ... others finding no evidence that the level of melatonin is associated with the risk of developing breast cancer. Carefully planned studies need to be completed to confirm the effectiveness of melatonin ... as well as to clarify its role in primary prevention. Yet, we should not wait years for the results of further studies to make adequate sleep in darkness a priority. This is the beauty of primary prevention: we do not have to wait for all of the answers before making lifestyle changes that we often know intuitively are healthy!

Spirituality comes into play when dealing with stress, which has long been believed to have a negative effect on health in general and to be a possible precursor to cancer:

Daily stress results in chronic over-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which has been linked to immune suppression as well as dysfunction of the endocrine system. ... Stress has also been linked to alterations in DNA repair and cell death, which have been shown to predispose to cancer. Clinically, stress has been correlated with developing cancer as well ...

Praying, attending religious services, and practicing yoga and meditation may reduce stress, “and thereby improve the effectiveness of the immune system in combating both infection and the development of cancers.”

If Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time simply repeated facts based on research, readers would be overwhelmed and quickly lose interest. Fortunately, that’s not the case; the book includes charts, graphs, recipes (most of them sound surprisingly tasty) and “practical points” (suggestions) to enhance learning and show the reader how simple it is to make adjustments in their lives. At the back of the book, there are worksheets and appendices and an index that makes it easy to search by topic.

Eldridge and Borgeson have done a fine job of explaining how our bodies function within our environment and what we can do to minimize our chances of getting cancer, and they have managed to do so in a reader-friendly style. | September 2007


Mary Ward Menke is a contributing editor to January Magazine and the owner of WordAbilities, LLC, providing writing and editing services to businesses and individuals. Her work has been published in The Toastmaster, Dog Fancy and Science of Mind magazines, in the Suburban Journals (a weekly St. Louis community newspaper) and on