As reported by Prevention, December 2004.

The Answer to Cancer

Talking to author and cancer survivor Carolyn Runowicz, M.D.

By Dianne Partie Lange

Twelve years ago, gynecologic oncologist Carolyn Runowicz, M.D, discovered a pea-size lump in her breast while doing her monthly self-exam.

Last July 4, she celebrated the anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis and the fact that since her recovery she's been cancer-free. And she reaffirmed her commitment to a cancer prevention lifestyle, an approach she describes in detail in her new book, The Answer to Cancer.

"I'm constantly reminded of how I want to live my life as far as eating, exercise, and good living are concerned," says Runowicz, director of the University of Connecticut Cancer Center in Farmington and vice president of the American Cancer Society.

As a breast cancer survivor, Runowicz is at high risk for recurrence, which is why she turned to chemoprevention--the latest technique in cancer treatment, which involves the use of certain drugs and nutrients to keep cancer at bay.

For 5 years following her surgery and chemotherapy, Runowicz took tamoxifen (Nolvadex), a drug that prevents estrogen from attaching to hormone-sensitive receptors in breast tissue and stimulating cancer development. Six months ago, she started taking letrozole (Femara), a promising new drug for postmenopausal women that blocks the production of estrogen. (Even after menopause, the adrenal glands produce estrogen in small amounts.)

In the new book, which Runowicz wrote with her husband, Sheldon H. Cherry, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she reports that eating large amounts of a variety of fruits and vegetables will prevent 20 percent or more of all cancers.

To ensure that she gets nine servings a day, she has a large glass of orange juice and a piece of melon for breakfast. She's mastered the art of the cornucopia salad, which she eats for lunch and dinner. "I put lots of stuff in it," she says, "fresh vegetables, chickpeas, olives, and a dash of olive oil."

Whether talking about herself or counseling her patients, Runowicz avoids the D-word. "Diet is a four-letter word. If you think about eating fruits and vegetables as your lifestyle and not as a 'diet,' then it becomes a part of you," she says.

Staying active is another essential cancer-prevention step that Runowicz has made central to her life. Colleagues marvel at the physical pace she maintains. Not only does she reserve time in her hectic schedule for her elliptical trainer, she also moves her tall, lean body quickly everywhere she goes. Runowicz rarely takes the elevator; parks in the space farthest from where she's going; and on her frequent trips, zips through airports as if she's on a high-speed people mover.

Having plenty of energy is partly genetic, Runowicz believes, but she also believes that a lifestyle of working out and moving quickly brings vitality to all aspects of her life. Runowicz will need that energy when she's named president of the American Cancer Society next year: "There's so much more I want to accomplish."

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Are you inspired by Carolyn Runowicz's story and now want to start chemoprevention without drugs? These 10 fruits and vegetables are cancer-fighting antioxidant powerhouses:

  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Broccoli

Dianne Partie Lange is a deputy editor at Prevention and the co-author of three books on cancer.