Dr. Nagourney: How to prevent cancer

Dr. Nagourney discusses ways to prevent cancer and gives advice to patients who have been diagnosed with the disease. Photo: ap

LOS ANGELES, March 28, 2013 — Dr. Nagourney is a noted oncologist and author of Outliving Cancer.  He pioneered personal cancer therapy using “functional profiling” and currently heads Rational Therapeutics.  He is also an instructor of Pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Medical Oncology and Hematology.

In this third part of a three part interview, Dr. Nagourney, discusses ways to prevent cancer and gives advice to patients who have been diagnosed with the disease.

Read parts one of the interview, which discuss his roots as an oncologist here and part two, which discusses his book Outliving Cancer here.

Kevin Wells: What are some of the best preventative measures people can take to avoid getting cancer?

Dr. Robert Nagourney, M.D.: We now realize that cancer is rather different than we thought. From the start, cancer isn’t these rapidly proliferating cells, it’s these cells that are surviving and a lot of what changes in cancer is energetic and metabolic. If that’s the case, then you would want to examine your own metabolic well being, your own physical well being from that standpoint.

So, for example, we hear a lot about sugar. You know, is sugar bad for you? Clearly sugar is an essential component of you life, but sugar in the diet, particularly in the rawest forms of sugar, probably not very natural, induces changes in hormonal balances and enzymatic responses through the insulin-like growth factors that are probably very deleterious.

So I think lean body weight is an obvious way to avoid some of the dietary related cancers. You know, obvious things like avoiding excessive sun exposure and not smoking cigarettes, that sort of stuff is very simple. I think more profoundly, we now realize that our body is a bit of a machine and there are genetic elements that respond to sleep-wake patterns, night-day responses.

There is a whole genetic element called CLOCK that regulates many profound biological processes based on your sleep-wake patterns, night-day patterns, dietary intake. Exercise is not just a way of burning calories, but it induces very profound biochemical changes at the cellular level through things like LKB1 and AMP Kinase and these are very, very critical to homeostasis and well being.

When you talk about exercise and when you talk about lifestyle, this isn’t just, “It’s good for you,” it’s essential for your well being. I would say that regular exercise is not just a good idea, it’s a biochemically founded good idea. Lean body weight is not just a good idea, it’s a fundamental protection against cancer.

The concept of dietary intake that reflects a more Paleolithic diet, a sort of diet our body was designed for. We’ve evolved from a physical well being that has not caught up with our societal evolution. So in the last hundreds of years, certainly in the last 10,000 years, we have completely changed the body of the human in terms of what we’re eating and how we’re living our lives, but our physical body has not caught up.

So we’re living in a 10,000-year-old body eating McDonalds burgers and the body’s machinery has not caught up with that. I think that simple things are probably profoundly important for well being. They’re not rocket science, but there is a lot of rocket science that supports those concepts.

KW: Is there anything else you would like people reading this interview to know?

RN: I think that patients have to realize that a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence. A diagnosis of cancer is a call to arms. You have to marshal your defenses. You have to circle the wagons and figure out what options are available to you; if something along the lines of our work is helpful.

I think you also have to get beyond the current hubbub of genomic analysis is the only way to go. Contemporary science has not yet established any clear evidence that genomic profiling, with the exception of a few known genes, is changing outcomes in cancer patients. We probably need to be humble enough to allow cellular biology to teach us how to treat cancer and that’s kind of our principle; that cellular behavior is more instructive than genomic analysis.

So from our standpoint, yeah, patients should learn to seek out information, but be cautious about the sources. There is plethora of misinformation online that people have to be careful to filter. You also have to realize that many physicians go into this with preconceived notions of how to treat and what they want to give.

If you’re an academic physician, you’re going to encourage someone to go on a clinical trial. If you’re a private practice physician, you’re going to encourage someone to go on a treatment you’re familiar with. If you are a managed care physician, you’re going to guide people toward the leas expensive treatments.

There are a lot of unfortunate agendas that patients confront. What we hope from this book, in part, is that people will realize there is objective data. There is absolute information that can be used guide therapy. With our approach, we don’t come in with an agenda. We’re sort of agnostic as to what the right things for the patient would be. We suggest you should get that which works best for you and use your own tissue to profile and define that.


Kevin J. Wells writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music.  Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball


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Kevin Wells

Kevin J. Wells was born and raised in the Los Angeles area in a town called Montrose.  He currently plays guitar for and is a founding member of the Los Angeles punk rock band Emmer Effer.  He has worked in a number of different career fields including Behavioral Therapy, Commodities, Insurance, and most recently a food cart in Portland, OR.


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