NFCR Writer Nicole Tartaglia, Author at NFCR - Page 2 of 2

NFCR Writer Nicole Tartaglia

Folate for Improved Health

checklist for folate

Folate is a member of the B vitamins family and is essential to the formation of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, the conversion of carbohydrates into energy and the production of DNA and RNA. For those with or without cancer, folate or vitamin B9 benefits the body and can promote an improved state of well-being.

  • Good for the heart. Individuals deficient in folate will accumulate high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine—and this may lead to atherosclerosis or plaque build-up in our arteries. Appropriate dietary intake of folate will help maintain better homocysteine levels to impede plaque build-up and narrowing of the arteries—a risk for stroke and heart disease.
  • Keeping “bad” cholesterol in check. Maintaining appropriately low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or so-called “bad” cholesterol is important to the body’s ability to reduce inflammation—a process also involved in arterial plaque build-up. Folate is a proven dietary tool to maintain low LDL levels in the body.
  • Symptoms if you’re low: Low energy, poor digestion, frequent sickness, anemia, canker sores, mood swings, paleness, premature grey hair: Any or all of these symptoms are attributable to diverse factors, however, can also be a sign of low levels of folate in the body.

Finding Folate

Folate is common to many wonderful and readily accessible foods, including:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce and turnip greens.
  • Vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, avocado, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, beets, corn, celery, carrots, and squash.
  • Citrus fruits including papaya, oranges, grapefruits, kiwi, strawberries, and raspberries.
  • Beans, lentils and some peas
  • Nuts and seeds, specifically sunflower seeds, peanut, flaxseed, and almonds.

Clearly, there are enough foods rich in folate to suit any palate. Maintaining sufficient levels of the B vitamin in the body helps allow its critical systems to stand strong.






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Preventing and Treating Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is never thwarted by the politics of avoidance. Over half of men aged 50 and over have already experienced changes to the tissues and cells in their prostate, which is part of the normal aging process. The likelihood of developing prostate cancer increases with age. While only one in 10,000 men under age 40 will be diagnosed with the disease, one in 15 men in their 60s will be. Hence, it’s imperative to know if such changes are simply signs of aging or warning signs of being at risk.

Early and Often

Prostate cancer, if caught early, is one of the most treatable cancers. Simple routine screenings are all that is required to determine if cell or tissue abnormalities merit further investigation. Beyond yearly trips to the doctor, physicians can use high-resolution MRI, computer tomography and bone scans to determine the nature of irregular cell growth and gauge how profoundly surrounding tissues or bones may be involved. These are minimally invasive tests which give a broad spectrum but minute-level evaluation of any areas which may be at risk.  Men aged 50 or over, aged 40 or over and of African-American descent, or with a family history of prostate cancer should consider a yearly rectal examination and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, and discuss the risks and benefits of these procedures with their doctor.

Eat Smart!

It goes without saying that a healthy diet will aid in avoiding many cancer diagnoses. Specific to prostate cancer, medical experts suggest the following:

  • Eat more fish! Aim for those with omega-3 fatty acids that are wild caught and not farm-raised.
  • Don’t like fish? Try flaxseed or flaxseed oil which also possesses high levels of omega-3s.
  • Avoid trans-fats like those in margarine. There is no healthy or acceptable level for these.
  • Keep calcium intake at or below 1,500 mg (milligrams) per day.
  • Limit red meat consumption and aim to get plant-based fats instead.
  • Cook with olive oil rather than butter.
  • Eat greens to keep the prostate clean. Broccoli, collard greens, cabbage, and kale are rich in nutrients ideal for supporting the prostate.

Watch and Weight

Keeping the body mass index (BMI) below 30 is crucial. Obesity is a significant risk factor for many cancers, prostate included. Those who lead sedentary lifestyles, or have jobs which require they spend much of their time seated, are at greater risk for prostate cancer. The Truth About Cancer Internet site provides examples of some of these occupations and activities, including: “bus drivers, truck drivers, motorcyclists, pilots, and men who have long daily commutes. Bicyclists also experience increased pressure to the groin when they ride and are also at an increased risk for prostatic complications.” Moderate exercises like walking, good food choices and reducing caloric intake are critical to maintaining an appropriate BMI.  

Be Good to YOU

Perhaps prosaic, but still true, some basic principles of self-care can go a long way to bolstering prevention. It’s important to manage stress effectively. And those for whom stress is a problem significantly affecting life—seek assistance from friends, family, religious leaders or mental health professionals.

Sleep is also essential. Too much stress can profoundly impact circadian rhythm, and lack of sleep causes decreases in testosterone levels and elevated stress hormone production. Poor sleep also results in blood sugar imbalances and prostatic growth. Whereas good sleep habits keep these risk factors at bay. Too, deep-breathing stress-relief exercises are an easy way to calm the sympathetic nervous system, allowing for the reduction in stress hormones.

Get Real

It’s a fact that no man relishes prostate exams. However; simple tests can be life-saving. Yearly doctor’s exams allow for immediate detection of abnormal prostatic cell growth. And timely detection provides access to the myriad of minimally invasive and highly accurate tests giving men time and tools to prevent and prevail over prostate cancer.

NFCR Advances in the Field

The National Foundation for Cancer Research-supported scientist, Dr. James Basilion of Case Western Reserve University, is developing an innovation with advanced detection capabilities for prostate cancer. As demonstrated in animal studies, an agent which he and his colleagues have studied could greatly improve identification of cancerous cells by surgeons in real time during prostate cancer surgery—and do so in a manner without the radioactive risks innate to a competing method.




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Encouragement for Cancer Caregivers

When a diagnosis of cancer is delivered to a patient, the effect is obviously traumatic. This trauma is not self-limiting. The people who love and care for those with cancer have their lives irrevocably impacted, as well. Individuals find themselves in a role they hadn’t anticipated playing: that of caregiver to a seriously ill family member. Often demanding, this role rarely remains within the boundaries of prior comfort levels.

To these special caregivers, boundless amounts of thanks and love are in order.  Too, objective pointers are below offered for them:

  1. Acknowledge the new normal. It can be scary to accept a role as caregiver to a family member whom you’ve only ever known as a capable flourishing human being. It’s important to acknowledge that each day there may be new challenges, be they physical, emotional or otherwise. It’s vital that you acknowledge as a caregiver that it is not your job to solve every problem. It is a good idea, however, to remain sensitive to the challenges and the emotions, acknowledge them and provide assistance where possible. You may not always know what to do, but an adjustment period is to be expected in this is a new role. The atmosphere of your home, your relationships and finances may likely be refined and change during the course of cancer treatment.
  2. Have a network of trusted allies. Frequently, caregivers can convince themselves that they are solely responsible for every need of the one for whom they care. Certainly, doing things for your loved one is a commitment worth making, but it is wise to be sure that you have some trusted helpers who can step in when you need a break or simply aren’t able to do the task required. Such family members or friends must be reliable and understanding of the patient’s needs and limitations. These allies must feel safe to both the caregiver and the cancer patient. It is therefore wise to include the patient whenever possible in choosing whom to include in your network. Any proxy must fully understand their task and be willing to be a supportive part of the patient’s care plan. Having people who can help will allow you, the primary, some autonomy and latitude in a role that often puts your own needs second.
  3. Take care of yourself. Be sure you are taking enough time to do the things for yourself which need doing. Go to the doctor. See your dentist. Visit an oncology social worker to help you with any emotional strain your role as a caregiver may place on you. Eat well, sleep enough, attend your chosen house of worship and when needs be, ask for help. Avail yourself of resources like the National Alliance for Caregiving, Caregiver Action Network and AARP which provide caregivers with education and support. You are an essential part of your loved one’s fight to conquer cancer, so be good to yourself. The benefits thereof mean you will be your best self and the best caregiver for your family member.
  4. Allow for thanks and acknowledgment of the good you are doing. Contrary to popular opinion, a study by the American Journal of Epidemiology of more than 3,500 caregivers over six years discovered that those caring for chronically ill loved ones did not necessarily experience increased health risks. Rather, they were found to have increased their life expectancy.
  5. Know what it means to effectively communicate with doctors. As a caregiver, it is imperative that you nurture a functional and open line of communication with your loved one’s medical team. Attend appointments as often as is practical. Be sure to have the conversation in front of your loved one with the doctor present that affirms you are the trusted proxy and are to be included in major decisions. Do your best to be open when doctors suggest new courses of treatment and technologies. Don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions, and be persistent in making sure the doctor explains any new ideas or therapies to you in a manner which you can understand and easily share with your loved one if concerns should arise. Keep medical documentation organized for easy access and referral.

The role of caregiver is an incredible and self-sacrificial gift to a loved one. Joining them on the journey and struggle with cancer will give you the ability to love them in both the best and most difficult of circumstances. The cancer community would not be whole without your love and support.

For more tips on how to care for yourself as you support family members fighting cancer, visit Tips for Family Caregivers.pdf.


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Causal Links Between Alcohol & Cancer

Enjoying a glass of fine wine by the fireside is as normal a part of a Holiday party as passed hors-d’oeuvres. But at this time of year, it’s wise to be well aware of the scientific community’s numerous studies on the association between alcohol consumption and cancer.


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) sets a maximum of 14 drinks for men and seven for women within a week’s time. Within these limits, medical publications have noted that there may be some actual health benefits from the consumption of alcohol in moderation, such as staving off stroke, dementia, and depression. There too have been studies demonstrating that those who consume red wine in moderation are at a 50% lower risk of developing bowel tumors. Also, a Cedars-Sinai of Los Angeles study published in the Journal of Women’s Health links chemicals present in the seeds and skin of red wine grapes with a diminished risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women. Moderate or occasional consumption of alcohol, in particular, red wine, has also been seen to boost beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in the blood.  


But science pointing to cancer mitigating effects associated with alcohol consumption must also be squared with abundant studies of increased risk. The National Cancer Institute(NCI) provides a cavalcade of information on studies which show concrete causal links between alcohol consumption and cancer diagnosis. Indeed, its “Report on Carcinogens” lists alcohol as a known cancer-causing agent, as does the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program. According to this research, as of 2009, 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. were related to alcohol.

According to NCI, the following cancers have been found to have concrete causal links to alcohol consumption:

  • Cancers of the head and neck: major risk for those who consume 50g (grams) (3.5 drinks) or more per day.
  • Liver cancer: alcohol consumption is viewed as a primary cause.
  • Cancer of the esophagus: a major risk factor in cases of squamous cell carcinoma and those born with a deficiency in the enzyme which breaks down alcohol.
  • Breast cancer: extensive studies show a hard link. A study spanning almost 60,000 women shows those who drank greater than 45g daily increased their risk 1.5 times over non-drinkers, and the risk of breast cancer was elevated across all levels of alcohol consumption.
  • Colorectal cancer: a moderate increase in risk for those consuming 50g or more per day.

This Just In

In a New York Times article published November 7, 2017, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) also weighed in on the debate. Their position is that heavy drinkers are at the greatest risk, especially for cancers such as throat, voice box, liver and colorectal cancer. However, according to Dr. Noelle LoConte, the lead author of the ASCO statement, “the message is not, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start.’” ASCO notes that 5.5% of all newly diagnosed cancers and 5.8% of cancer deaths worldwide are attributable to alcohol, and it counsels that, for women, even one drink per day may significantly increase risk of breast cancer

All Good Things

With respect to alcohol’s causal relationship with cancer, it is incumbent upon each adult individual to make wise and informed choices on their consumption. As we enter into a season of celebration and merriment, whether or not the eggnog is spiked or not is each person’s choice. Though moderation should certainly serve as a basic guiding principle.



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Cancer: There’s an App for That

In the digital age, if there’s an issue, there’s a smartphone app that addresses it. For patients and families navigating cancer, thankfully, the options are plenty. Here’s a variety of smartphone applications created to specifically address the needs of the cancer community.


Cancer.Net Mobile: free for iPhone, iPad and Android. The app includes features that allow patients to get up to date information on more than 120 types of cancer, log and track their treatments, receive advice on how to manage side effects, provide cost of care information, and connect to links for cancer-related podcasts, videos, and blogs. This app is available for Spanish speakers as well and allows patients to track symptoms, log medication and facilitate communication between doctor and patient.


CareZone: free for iPhone or Android. This organizational app helps patients remember treatments, plan care notes, summarize drug administration protocols, deliver medication and doctors’ visit reminders, and simplify treatment through taking and retaining pictures of medications, prescriptions, and supplements. The app also provides a journaling area for tracking appointments and keeping notes to discuss with doctors.

create to heal logo 

Create To Heal: free for iPhone. The goal of this app is to “gently take you from your head to your heart, where the healing process begins.” Though the app isn’t meant as a treatment management tool, it does focus on creativity and stress relief as a compliment to care plans. The app was tested over five years using hundreds of cancer patients. It provides guided meditations, soothing music, and art with a view to reducing stress and assisting in the healing process.


Chemo Brain: free for Apple devices. Chemotherapy is notorious for producing in patients temporary but significant memory lapses. This app is designed to make it easy for patients to make notes in the moment so that this condition isn’t a hindrance. Patients can jot down reminders for medications, appointments, questions for the doctor and thoughts on side-effects, as well as record what physicians say during an appointment and send e-mails to friends or family to keep them updated.

 cancer dictionary free app logo

Cancer Dictionary Free: free for iOS devices on iTunes. Navigating the world of medical jargon can be overwhelming and alienating. The app gives instant access to oncology-specific information in an easy to use quick reference guide to facilitate understanding and give patients clarity.  Guides for pronunciation and synonyms for terms and drugs used to treat cancers are also included. This app works offline for those offices with limited internet connectivity. The app has instant share with friends to keep any patient’s support network speaking their language. User-friendly interface is appropriate for internet abilities ranging from novice to advanced.

iHealth Log app logo


iHealth Log: $4.99 for iOS devices on iTunes. Created to serve people with chronic diseases, this app tracks appointments, test results, lab values and even fluctuations in weight. It is more thorough than some other apps and includes features like an audio diary to record questions for the doctor, keep memos to stay organized and keep on top of necessary tasks. This app also includes the option to protect patient sensitive medical information with a separate password.

 LivingWith: Cancer Support App Logo

LivingWith: Cancer Support: free on iTunes: A “My Circle” function gives patients a simple way to communicate with the family members and friends who matter most to them. It has a feature that allows patients to request someone manage the app on their behalf when needed. A “Requests” function allows patients to send requests for help with daily tasks like meals, rides to doctors’ appointments or other support.  A “Health Notes” function records key takeaways from doctors’ visits, and tracks notes and questions in between appointments to improve communication with healthcare teams. It stores test results, medication details and insurance documents in one central folder. And a “Living With” function allows patients to track mood, pain, sleep and counts steps. Users can sync data with other fitness apps and wearables. Patients choose which information to share in personalized graphs and reports regarding their wellness for better communication with doctors and support personnel.

No matter what your diagnosis, level of understanding or internet savvy, there’s an app for cancer that can help you.  It’s important to remember that these tools are not meant in any way to replace a doctor or specialist, but they can bring relief, organization and help connect to resources and people who wish to provide support to cancer patients. See your online app store and consult with your doctor or oncology social worker for further or more specific guidance on those apps which might best benefit you.

The apps included in this sampling in no way represent a bias by the National Foundation for Cancer Research for or against these or other products.


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In the Pink: Preventing Breast Cancer in Every Season of Life

As the tidal wave of pink paraphernalia synonymous with October ebbs, and our thoughts turn to turkey, football and autumn foliage in full Technicolor array; it’s important to keep in mind that preventing breast cancer is a year-round affair. Vigilance is mandatory; that is if preventing and detecting the onset of breast cancer is your priority. There is no shortage of things women can do in every season of their lives in order to live their best lives free of breast cancer!


To the younger women, ages 18 to 25: to put it plainly; feel your breasts! I know, you heard it in your high school health classes, giggled and rolled your eyes thinking, “No way! I’m not doing that in the shower?”  Well, why not? If you know your body intimately in terms of contour and textures, lines and curves, then it stands to reason that if something irregular is going on, you’re going to notice it that much faster. In the fight against breast cancer, timely discovery and diagnosis are essential.  Not sure what you should be doing or looking for? Click here for some tips and hints on how and how often to do a breast self-exam and what steps to take if you think anything is out of the ordinary.

Beyond physical self-exams, it is vital to conduct a historical examination of your family where breast cancer is concerned. BRCA gene testing may be available at no cost to those with proven family medical histories of the disease; check with your insurance provider and your doctor and/or genetic counselor. Being aware of your genetic predisposition toward cancer will help you make important changes in your lifestyle and your medical courses of action in order to preserve your health and well-being.


Breastfeeding is a natural function. It’s the reason we have breasts in the first place and is an essential function of bonding between mother and child which provides the best nutrients to infants from birth. Fact: breastfeeding can be difficult. Low milk supply, sleep deprivation and painful, cracked nipples can dissuade many moms from breastfeeding and opting for more convenient formulas.  Now there’s NO shame in using solely formula or in supplementing. Lactation consultants worth their salt will tell you that the best baby is a fed baby, however, the cancer-fighting benefits of breastfeeding are manifold.

When women breastfeed they shed breast cells and this leads to the removal of damaged tissue which may help reduce chances to develop breast cancer. Women who breastfeed for a period of at least 6 months experience fewer periods and ovulation cycles. This lessens lifetime exposure to hormones commonly seen as factors in breast cancer diagnoses. With fewer ovulation cycles, the risk for ovarian cancer is lessened. For best practices in using breastfeeding as a tool in your prevention plan, click here.   

Move It!

It is imperative that women exercise and control their weight. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention warns that “Among women who exercise, the ratio of ‘good’ estrogens to ‘bad’ estrogens [those that can damage DNA and increase a woman’s breast cancer risk] improved by roughly 25%. Past research has shown that the greater this ratio, the lower a woman’s breast cancer risk. Among women who don’t exercise, the ratio didn’t budge.” Not to worry, you don’t need to start training for triathlons. This same study says that “women who walked briskly for 1¼ to 2½ hours a week had 18% less risk of breast cancer than women who were inactive”.  

Halting Hormones
There is sound wisdom in the counsel of those touting the benefits of aging gracefully. Dying our hair, treating those fine lines with CoQ10 and lathering on all the body butter we can muster to keep our youthful glow is a focal point for many women as we enter our 40s and beyond. However, research shows that its best to limit exposure to hormones and hormone therapies like those used to treat side-effects of menopause (such as osteoporosis and heart disease) to a span of less than 3 to 5 years since these are linked to breast cancer. Non-hormone therapies are available and it’s as easy as asking your doctor. Harvard Medical professionals recommend a variety of alternatives including soy products, mind-body therapy, weight loss and other non-hormone driven pharmaceuticals.

For younger women taking birth control, it is recommended that you stop after age 35 to avoid complications and diagnoses linked to breast cancer. The risks of heart attack and stroke are markedly more pronounced while taking birth control, but these decrease swiftly as soon as the pills are stopped.  The verdict on long-term birth control pill consumption is still more of a hung jury, as there is research that supports its benefits which can include lowered risk of ovarian, colon and uterine cancers. However, if breast cancer is your main concern, avoiding birth control pills is still your best course of action.

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Outrunning Cancer: Exercise is the Best “Medicine”

Many common cancer treatments and surgeries are invasive and have uncomfortable or painful side-effects which make movement and participation in even the most basic of activities a challenge. Patients are traditionally told to take it easy after being diagnosed or undergoing surgery and treatments. However, a change in school of thought has been gaining momentum over the last few years that is directly juxtaposed to this ‘kick back to kick cancer’ attitude. Health and exercise professionals including the MacMillan “Move More” Report and the  American College of Sports medicine have research demonstrating that those patients diagnosed with cancer who perform moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes weekly are experiencing improved rates of successful recovery. Let’s explore some of these types of activity and outline some of the tangible benefits for those on the journey of recovery.

Namaste Now
Yoga has long been touted as beneficial for aligning the body’s processes and systems because of its focus on core strength and breathing. Asana, which are poses or a series thereof, encourage the body to breathe in and out in specific and structured ways. For cancer patients, ridding the body’s systems of toxins and getting back to chemical and hormonal homeostasis is a top priority. Ýoga and yoga breathing are perfect and gentle ways to get the body moving to achieve this goal and these can be modified in any number of ways to suit patients with any restrictions owing to side-effects of surgery or treatment. The use of Yoga as a therapy allows cancer patients to increase the activity levels in anti-cancer cells that boost immunity. These cells, called macrophages are aggressive scavengers which rid our bodies of toxins, dead cells and debris. They are foremost among our body’s weapons that create antigens as part of our immune response to infection and disease. notes that, “Studies have shown that regular exercise releases tension and decreases depression, two issues that many suffering or recovering from cancer is all too familiar with.” In the battlefield of the mind of patients, having any weapon to combat these enemies is a potent ally indeed!

Pilates Please
It’s no small a wonder that Pilates is gaining popularity as beneficial to cancer patients in recovery and remission. Many suffer weakened major muscle groups as a consequence of invasive, body-altering surgeries as they and their physicians seek to banish the baddies from the body. Though it is appropriate to rest until incisions heal within reason; the ability to perform Pilates from a lying down or supine position means that an all-important active recovery is available sooner thereby reducing the incidence of adhesions. The reintroduction of movements through Pilates will benefit muscle strength, posture, range of motion and those actions needed to feel more surety in performing daily tasks.

Walking Wisdom
Looking for an easy and readily accessible work-out program? Walking for 30 minutes at a pace sufficient to raise the heart rate into the cardio zone is still one of the best and most recommended exercise plans of all. To find your target heart rate, as prescribed by the CDC click here and remember that 30 minutes of walking, 5 times per week, is enough exercise to keep your systems shedding those toxins and your muscle groups moving and your hormone levels normalizing. All of these are critical when your goal is have a body that is a cancer no-zone!  

The Bottom Line is the Finish Line
Exercise need not be strenuous to be effective. A panel at the Pennsylvania School of medicine concluded that cancer patients and survivors should aim to get the same amount of aerobic exercise, stretching and strength training weekly as is recommended for those without cancer. That’s right; the same as everyone else. (Of course, doctors do not expect, nor is it possible for patients to always maintain this same level, but patients should avoid inactivity as much as they can). The benefits of this type of benchmark for patients are important because it’s not just the bodies but also the hearts and minds of patients which stand to profit greatly. Much of the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery places patients in a mental arena wherein they are self-identifying or classified as separate, different or alone. Getting back to exercise, gardening, walking the dog or strolling on the beach, will not only benefit patients physically, but will bring the focus back from the hinterlands of diagnoses past and focused on the finish line of recovery ahead.

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Firefighters: Heroes in the Line of Fire

All consuming, unforgiving, destructive: adjectives easily attributable to the symptoms, treatments, diagnosis and battle with cancer. These descriptors also paint an accurate rendering of the infernos into which American fire fighters, America’s Bravest, venture unflinchingly as they perform their duty.

In a recent exposé, experts uncovered a disturbing trend which has been understated if not ignored in the fire-fighting community at large until recently. Among fire fighters in prominent cities like Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, cancer rates are now soaring.  In fact, cancer is now the number one long-term killer of fire fighters in America.


National Fire Prevention Week was observed October 8-14, 2017. As part of the “Every Second Counts” campaign, the National Fire Protection Association looks to educate people on how to prevent fires as well as how to plan ahead so as to quickly and safely escape the flames and smoke as quickly as possible.  Time is important. When fire destroys a building, it’s easy to forget that the entire structure and all the materials therein are being incinerated. When this happens, caustic and carcinogenic chemicals are released into the air. Chemicals like hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, termed the “toxic twins,” are well documented for their ability to contribute to cancer; but they are not alone.


An image firmly emblazoned in the collective consciousness of our nation, the weary and battle-wizened hero, a patina of soot and sweat shading his cheeks and brow and a determined expression his face.  A romantic notion, but beyond that image, firefighters are now seeing the harsh truth. “When I started on the force 14 years ago, being a smoke eater was a badge of honor. We wanted to wear our SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus) as little as possible; it’s how you showed your strength.”  Captain Andrew Brown of a major metropolitan fire department shared with me in a recent interview.  “Guys who were particularly tough about it we called smoke eaters with leather lungs,” he added ruefully acknowledging the irony in the dubious moniker.

As it happens the soot was never badge of honor, rather a harbinger of things to come. According to Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn, the concern is what he describes as the rise in multiple system cancers (myelomas, leukemias, non-Hodgkins lymphomas etc.), being diagnosed in firefighters at a 5-alarm rate.

When Technology Isn’t an Ally

Fire fighters use Four-Gas Monitors to determine what chemicals are in the air when they arrive at the scene of a blaze. This informs how long they must wear self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs). These protocols are standardized, but many firefighters are not properly trained and aren’t familiar enough with the protocols designed to keep them safe from repeated exposure to chemicals in the line of duty. Sadly, it’s a habit among firefighters to turn off their SCBAs as soon as the fire is contained while they assess the structure looking for the cause of the fire by pulling down ceilings and walls and exposing themselves to high concentrations of trace toxins still present at the scene.

It’s more dangerous to be in a fire today than 30 years ago. The technology present in most homes including furniture coated with flame retardants is a lethal adversary. Captain Brown notes, “Everything in your house is designed to keep it from burning; but when it does, its hotter, nastier and faster. It takes longer to light it but once it does it’s worse. Your couch is killing the fire fighter, not the structure or the building falling down …. It’s the chemicals used to make and treat your furniture.” When they burn, they are poison.  


In a departure from prioritizing the memorization of ‘parts per billion’ gas concentration protocols in order to prescribe the wearing intervals of SCBAs, those in charge are now supporting the idea that the cleaner the firefighter, the better. Fire-fighting authorities are now requiring crews to observe some simple steps to mitigate undue risks:

  • Personnel wearing SCBAs with air flow turned on until clear of the incident entirely.
  • Using pre-moistened wipes to clean faces & exposed skin areas as soon as is practical.
  • “Shower within the hour “at the fire house.
  • Wash all clothing and gear at the firehouse in specialized washing machines that protect gear and are made with parts that will not absorb carcinogens deposited on the gear.
  • Never wash gear at home to keep toxins from harming family members
  • Installing personal saunas in firehouses so that employees can sweat the toxins out of their pores as both a proactive and reactive measure to address any possible exposure.


The oldest firehouse in Philadelphia, Engine 37, was built in 1894. Over time, budgetary issues have precluded many houses like this one from necessary infrastructure updates to include tools that fire fighters need as the fight against exposure to carcinogens evolves.

The approximate cost to purchase and install new NFPA 1851 compliant washers and dryers adds approximately $10,000 to a station’s budget. And though eating habits are improving vis-à-vis the stereotypically meat and potatoes firehouses, these infrastructural updates are necessary elements in balancing the equation to ensure firefighters live healthier, longer lives.  


Protecting firefighters from exposure to long-term cancer-causing elements inherent in the line of duty is an urgent need. Tending to this need isn’t just physically responsible, but fiscally. If firefighters are NOT being diagnosed with cancer they are not going out on terminal government funded disability. Instead, they are doing the job they love and saving those we love. As the link between exposure and diagnosis continues to become more crystallized, these heroes will persevere. We can only hope that, in the future, when the smoke clears, we’ll see those same determined faces safely gritty with resolve behind their SCBAs rather than obscured by lethal soot.

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Take a Bite Out of Cancer: Foods that Fail

Eating well and living an active lifestyle are important. If we want to live our best lives, and if we’re looking to take a proactive approach to preventing a cancer diagnosis, then how and what we eat is of great importance.  In this iteration of Take a Bite Out of Cancer, we highlight foods and elements in foods that fail to get us to our goal: a clean, cancer-free, bill of health.

Where the Rubber “Meats” the Road:

Bacon: The mere mention is enough to send even a toddler into a rapturous bliss. Be that as it may, bacon is not on our list of to do’s for everyday consumption. Bacon, along with deli meats, and char grilled meats contain pronounced amounts of chemicals, preservatives and nitrates. In bacon and cold cuts, these preserve the foods, but in our bodies they create a more hospitable environment for cancer cell production and growth.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the linkages between cancer diagnoses and the consumption of red and processed meats is becoming more pronounced.  In fact, WHO ranks red and processed meats in the same category as smoking, and asbestos!!! Grilling fans be warned, the charring on the meats can also  be carcinogen rich. True, these are tasty, convenient and enjoyable, but if you’re serious about avoiding a cancer diagnosis, these foods are best consumed in moderation.

  • Avoid: Bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami and pepperoni, ribs; if you do choose red meat, choose something lean – at least 93%
  • Linkages: High intake of these foods are seen as proven contributors to bowel and colorectal cancers.
  • Limit red meat: Eating too much red meat, like pork, beef, lamb, deer and buffalo, can increase your cancer risks. Try to limit red meat to 18 oz. or less each week to keep your cancer risks low.
  • Alternatives: Eat like a Greek!! Much of the Mediterranean fare is in line with a cancer-busting diet! Here are some great ideas and recipes. Veggies, olive oils, legumes, lean meats, spices, fruit and, yes, dessert! Opah!
  • Grilling: Choose veggies to grill and eat grilled meat in moderation

Something Fishy

No one doubts the goodness derived from the Omega-3 fatty acids present in fish like salmon. I remember growing up hearing our own mothers refer to fish as “brain food.” So how did it end up on the naughty list? Well, not all fish, farmed fish. Fish not caught in the wild are farmed in environments treated with antibiotics, pesticides and other carcinogenic chemicals used to kill viruses that thrive therein. These elements concentrate in the fish’s meat and are passed on to the consumer.  Moreover, because they are farmed in large numbers they don’t have the same room to run and grow, and therefore, the fish may not develop the same high levels of Omega-3s and contain up to 20% less protein.

  • Avoid: All farmed fish, swordfish, tilefish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, and ahi tuna; they are higher in mercury which repeated exposure may cause brain, kidney and developmental problems. This is especially true for pregnant and nursing women and young children.
  • Linkages: Carcinogens in farm raised fish may contribute toward general cancer diagnoses.
  • Alternatives: Wild caught fish is best! Farm-raised and “Atlantic” do not qualify.
  • The best: Wild caught fresh or canned salmon, cod and others fish not listed above.
  • Guidelines: Eat 2 servings a week (about 8 ounces total) of a variety of fish and seafood – recommendation from the USDA.
  • TIP: Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium for information on best choices of fish and in your state. A convenient mobile App is available. Or visit the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bubble Trouble
Sodas and carbonated beverages are a no-go if your goal is to prevent cancer. Chemicals, dyes and the ever vilified high-fructose corn syrup all contain properties that research shows may be cancer-causing. This is because they, too, help make our bodies more susceptible and a better host environment for cancer.  More specifically, research indicates cancer cells treat sugar like an accelerant. If you think about our blood stream like a highway, fructose creates an ez-pass lane for cancer cells to divide and grow! No good news for the “diet” cola drinkers either. Experts show that diet soft drinks are chemically poisonous to our systems, they contain no nutrients and ironically have been proven to contribute to weight gain!

  • Avoid: Colas, sodas, diet sodas
  • Linkages: Research has shown the compounds in High Fructose Corn Syrup may be linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Alternatives: If you really need bubbles, go with seltzer but be picky. There are “zero calorie” flavored waters which contain artificial sweeteners. A better alternative is to drink seltzers with real fruit essences, and in moderation; remember, 8 cups of water a day is best. Infuse water with fruit, citrus, basil, cucumber, mint and more for other great benefits.

Potato Chips, Fries & Microwave Popcorn

These yummy treats unfortunately come with some rather insidious “extra” ingredients.  Microwave popcorn contains a carcinogen called PFOA, (perfluorooctanoic acid) and the artificial butter contains diacetyl which has been proven to damage your lungs when inhaled. Recently the popcorn companies lost a landmark case to the tune of $7 million in relation to PFOA. Unfortunately they aren’t scheduled to remove these chemicals until 2018. Potato chips and French fries are comfort food. But the side-effects of the hydrogenated oils they are fried in, serve up a dose of unhealthy trans fats of which no “safe amount” exists. Trans fats, paired with the extreme amounts of salt with which they’re usually served, increase blood pressure and inflammation in the body – a cancer-causing concern. It’s also worth noting that potatoes are one of the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-treated veggies on the farm – so choosing an organic grown potato is a wise alternative.

  • Avoid: chips, fries and other foods cooked in hydrogenated oils, microwave popcorn
  • Linkages: microwave popcorn can cause “popcorn lung,” trans fats are linked to multiple cancers & heart disease and generally weakens the immune system.
  • Alternatives: Popcorn – pop your own, add flavors! French fries – buy organic and bake your own, Potato chips – bake or fry your own. Opt for organic butter, olive or vegetable oil.

Great alternatives for all these taboo goodies are readily available at the local mega-mart or online. Here’s to putting our 21st century know-how to work and cutting cancer off at the dinner table. To your good health!

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Take a Bite Out Of Cancer: Foods that Fight Cancer

Fuel is important and our choices in fuel are equally so. In plain terms, our bodies, and the immune systems they contain, are engines, and fueling them correctly is a necessary preamble to fending off a cancer diagnosis. What many fail to recognize is that most cancers function like engines, as well. This means that the “fuel” we put in our bodies ultimately determines whether we’re powering one engine or the other.

Since we know that inflammation and the biochemical balance of our bodies is key to allowing cancer cells to proliferate and grow, one core focus of our food choices needs to be avoiding those which cause inflammation or may stimulate cancer growth. Experts estimate that 30 to 40% of cancers can be staved off by healthy lifestyles and proper nutrition, so integrating proper foods into our diet is critical. 

Here are four categories of cancer-mitigating foods worth getting to know!

Eat Your Greens

Eating leafy and dark green vegetables has been shown to stimulate processes in our bodies less conducive to cancer growth and development. Cruciferous veggies contain glucosinolates, along with antibacterial and antiviral properties: all well-known to inactivate carcinogens. They are also rich in glutathione, known as the body’s “master antioxidant,” since it is most lethal to free radicals. Too, the potent chemicals in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are processed by our bodies into active compounds—indoles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates—which inhibit cancer cell growth.

  • What to eat: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, artichokes, zucchini, onions and asparagus
  • On the go: Juicing vegetables is a great way to enjoy some their best benefits!
  • Yum: Hummus or Greek yogurts are great on the fly for a healthy snack.

Bring on the Berries

Along with the vitamin C, fiber, folate, vitamin A and ellagic acid they contribute, berries are positively delicious. Blueberries and blackberries bring the most potent antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals that really pack a punch. While raspberries derive their color from flavonoids that generally promote health and contain ellagic acid, which is currently being studied for its anti-estrogen properties and may be impactful in helping to prevent breast cancer. Strawberries provide folic acid and vitamin C, which may help beat the odds against esophageal cancer.

  • What to eat: Eat all berries! Can’t get them fresh? Your local mega-mart likely has them frozen.
  • On the go: Blend them into smoothies. Add them to Greek yogurt for an extra cancer fighting boost!
  • For kids: Add them to cereals for sweetness instead of sugary alternatives.

Orange to the Rescue

Carotenoids is the family that beta keratin comes from and it is one more super accessible and edible super detoxifier that our bodies can use to fight the risk of a future cancer diagnosis. Though rich in carbohydrates (a word much maligned), studies are proving that the right complex carbs can reduce the risk of digestive tract cancers. The rationale is that these foods contain lots of fiber, which facilitates the expulsion of toxins from our systems.

  • What to eat: Carrots, sweet potato, yams, beets and butternut squash!
  • Did you know: whole grain foods are fiber-rich, toxin-cleansing carbs.
  • Yum: Think about it…who doesn’t want carrot sticks and hummus?!

Don’t be Chicken of Liver

Along with other organic meats, liver is nutrient dense and, as a bonus, chock full of selenium, vitamin B12 and zinc, which cleanse the blood and balance the hormones in our bodies. Be a little brave!

  • What to eat: Chicken and beef liver preferably fresh from an organic market.
  • Treat yourself: pair these livers with herbs and cancer-fighting veggies

Step Out of Your Comfort-food Zone

Try new things. It’s a great way to see how you can work these great cancer beaters into a lifestyle that fits you! Start simple with juices or smoothies? Explore great recipes that integrate cancer fighting foods. To your good health!


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