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An Intimate Conversation with David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.

The best-selling author of “Anti Cancer” speaks on cancer prevention and your wallet

August 2009

By Rachel Winters

“Most people, including cancer patients, live with the understanding that there is little they can do to prevent cancer,” says David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., international best-selling author of the highly respected book, “Anti Cancer.”

“This is a fundamentally false belief. People can greatly reduce their chance of dying from cancer by changing their lifestyle and environment,” Servan-Schreiber says.

Servan-Schreiber is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. At age 31, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, which he has battled for 16 years.

In his book “Anti Cancer,” Servan-Schreiber shares his new view on life as a cancer survivor. He explores both traditional and non-traditional approaches to prevent, fight and treat cancer. His book explains how anyone can incorporate these healthier approaches into their life.

Behavioral changes slow the growth of cancer cells

“Anti Cancer” outlines the role of diet, exercise, stress management and the environment in reducing your chances for cancer. Avoiding certain chemicals found in household cleaning products and perfumes is one way you can control your environment, according to Servan-Schreiber. Healthy changes to everyday life can reduce cancer risks by stopping the growth of cancer cells, which he calls “outlaws.” These changes, even if they are small, strengthen the immune system. They also reduce cell inflammation, which “outlaws” need to grow.

 “All in all, anything that boosts our immune system fights cancer,” Servan-Schreiber says. “And, certain food items or behaviors that have anti-inflammatory properties can help stop cancer from spreading.”

Spreading knowledge about cancer prevention makes a difference

The inspiration for “Anti Cancer” came during dinner with his brother at a small Italian restaurant in Paris. While eating a plate of grilled vegetables and a small side of pasta with pesto, Servan-Schreiber listened to his brother talk about how much their family and friends had changed their lifestyles and behaviors, based on what he had taught them about cancer prevention.

“For a number of years, I never talked about my disease or what I was doing to help myself,” says Servan-Schreiber. “I wanted my patients to think that I was in good enough shape to care for them, which I was. But, a few years down the line, after I was doing well, my brother told me that as a doctor, I shouldn’t keep that information from the public. He said I had to share my findings with the world. And, he was right. It was then that I decided to write ‘Anti Cancer’.”

Sometimes, cancer prevention sounds costly

“Anti Cancer” outlines what can seem like effective, but also pricey, ways to prevent cancer. These include eating organic fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed animal products; and using all-natural household cleaning products and cosmetics that are free of chemicals such as parabens, phthalates and estrogens. Many of these products are sold only at health food and upscale grocery stores.

 “No matter what the cost, cancer prevention will save you money in the long term,” Servan-Scheiber says. “Even with health insurance, co-pays, deductibles and missed days of work can hurt your wallet. Healthy living doesn’t just protect you from cancer. It also gives you more energy, memory and sexual stamina. Data suggests that people who follow healthy habits may be as much as 14 years younger than their chronological age. Ask yourself – what is the price of that?”

“Anti Cancer” on a budget

No one wants to put a price on their health, but the current state of the economy means that many people might have to. In addition, some of ideas the that Servan-Schreiber shares, especially when he talks about organic and all-natural products, can be intimidating. If you look at the basic message, however, what he has learned about cancer prevention really works for everybody – regardless of your budget.

Servan-Schreiber offers some simple, budget-friendly alternatives to some of his more costly health tips:

  • Plant geraniums on your windowsills, in your garden and in potted plants around the house instead of using store-bought mosquito repellant. Geraniums are an amazing natural repellant you can buy at any garden store. They also brighten-up any room.
  • Buy all-natural “crystal” deodorants made without aluminum. They are more expensive than other brands but last up to three times longer. This saves you money in the long-term. You can find ”crystal” deodorants at most drug stores.
  • Check pharmacy shelves for “greener” options – you might be surprised. Some less expensive cosmetic brands are “going green” and are more mindful about their product’s health risks and benefits. Try to find “green” options for shampoo, lotion, nail polish and sunscreen.
  • Clean with white vinegar (for floors and counters), baking soda or white soap instead of generic household cleaners. These options are great, low-cost alternatives to expensive, all-natural and organic cleaning products.
  • Eat lentils, beans and soy products in place of meat. You can find a variety of canned or dried beans and lentils at any grocery store. Your grocers’ frozen section carries pre-cooked, frozen edamame. Edamame is a soy bean that is a great start for people who don’t have experience with soy products. Omega-3 eggs are another great option. These items are much less costly than meat.

In addition to eating plant-based proteins in place of meat to fight cancer, Servan-Schreiber also recommends eating:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage
  • Garlic, onions and leeks
  • Various berries, such as raspberries and blueberries
  • Nuts, including hazelnuts and walnuts
  • Celery
  • Dark chocolate
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Bright orange vegetables
  • Omega 3 fats
  • Less than 18 ounces of free-range or flax-fed red meat per week

“Use olive oil only for cooking, and canola or flaxseed oil for salad dressings,” Servan-Schreiber says.

He suggests that people eat organic produce. If organic products are too costly or hard to find, however, he says it’s even more important to just include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. He also points out that some fruits and vegetables have fewer pesticides than others.

Read Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Dime to learn more about buying organic fruits and vegetables.

Related Links

More About “Anti Cancer” (

Watch the "Anti Cancer" video (M. D. Anderson)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center