Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Tomorrow is "Don't Fry Day"--So Stay Safe In The Sun (And Remember, It's Not All About Sunscreen)

by Dr. Len May 26, 2011

Here comes the sun... 


Summertime means--for many of us--more time outdoors in the sun, whether it be a vacation at the beach, walking along a country road, or working on our lawns and gardens. It also means thinking about skin cancer prevention-which is much more than using gobs of sunscreen to protect yourself from getting burned in the sun.


This Friday is "Don't Fry Day", sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention along with a number of collaborating organizations (including the American Cancer Society).  "Don't Fry Day" is designed to remind people that it's ok to have fun in the sun, so long as you pay attention to your skin while enjoying the great outdoors.


Being sun-safe isn't all that difficult.  It's really a matter of remembering a few simple rules, including the real role that sunscreen plays in sun-safe behavior: More...

Filed Under:

Exercise | Other cancers | Prevention

DetermiNation: It's All About The Meaning When Winning Isn't Everything

by Dr. Len March 28, 2011

Sometimes you read something that just touches you in a special way.  That's what I thought after reading the note below, sent to me by Kimberly McAdams, a colleague at the American Cancer Society.


Kimberly's email found its way to me as a thank you and follow-up for her participation in the Society's recent DetermiNation event in New Orleans.  What made the note stand out was not that she was someone I (along with many others) supported financially and emotionally as she prepared for her marathon, but the points she touched on as she related how her participation impacted her life.  It wasn't just about raising money.  No, it was much more: about how she did this together with friends, how she won the race before she ever finished it (a theme I have echoed in another blog this past summer), and how it was personal for her as she carried the thoughts and prayers of so many of her family and friends with her as she prepared for and participated in the race.


Most important was the fact that her mother is a cancer survivor, and at the same time Kimberly was preparing to run the race, her mother was declared to be cancer free.


There are a lot of messages in this note: messages about the wonderful people at the American Cancer Society and why we do what we do, messages about personal determination and commitment, and messages about the journey of life.


I hope you enjoy Kimberly's note as much as I did.  As she said frequently in her email, all of us join her in saying "Thank you!" for everything you do every day to help us do better for those we serve, whether they be people who depend on us for services, people who support us in our efforts, and people who hear every day that their lives continue and their birthdays will be celebrated hopefully for many years to come. More...

Filed Under:

Cancer Care | Exercise | Research

A Progress Report On My "Groundhog Day Diet": Yes, I Still See My Shadow

by Dr. Len February 02, 2011

Today is February 2nd, and it's Groundhog Day.


For me, it is the first anniversary of my Groundhog Day diet, so it's a good time to reflect on whether or not I met my personal goal set last Groundhog Day not to repeat the diet mistakes of the past, and try to maintain my weight for a whole year.


Was I successful?  Partly yes, and partly no.  But the good news is I did better this year than I did in the past, so that's a start-as long as one has a long term view of life. More...

Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

And Now A Message About Your Weight (Just What You Want To Hear This Time Of Year)

by Dr. Len December 03, 2010

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was a happy one, and that you are looking forward to a pleasant December.  But vigilance about your health is not taking a holiday, as two new releases yesterday--one in a medical journal and the other from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--are bound to make you think twice about that extra helping of stuffing you ate while enjoying your Thanksgiving meal.


The first report is in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, and written by a number of authors--including a colleague of mine from the American Cancer Society, Dr. Michael Thun--who examined the interminable question of whether or not being overweight as well as being obese can impact how long you will live. 


This article will give the boot to the old adage that you can never be too rich or too thin.  The scientists don't say anything about being too rich--we will have to leave that one to the psychologists to answer--but they do suggest that in fact you can be too thin.


The other report, from the United States Department of Health and Human Services offers statistics on the rate of obesity in the United States today, and sets goals for what we can accomplish in reducing those rates over the next decade. More...

Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

The Follow-up...If You Are Interested

by Dr. Len July 26, 2010

1)The son in law came in at 1:35, #11 in his class.


2) The wife came in at around 2:35, but she did finish after walking a portion of the 5k run at the end.  And just finishing was a terrific accomplishment in our eyes.


3) The 19 yo daughter finished around 2:25, running strong at the end. She won 3rd place in her group.  There were only 3 entrants.


4) The real hero was in the 15 yo son. He is in good shape and was doing well until the final run when he developed terrible leg cramps. He had to walk the entire 5k, part of it "straight legged" and the last 1/2 mile limping severely. He made it across the finish line--unassisted--at 2:56, which was 4 minutes before he would have been disqualified. He got a second place award, since there were only two entrants in his age class. He showed incredbile determination.  We are very proud of him.

Filed Under:

Exercise | Prevention

You Can Do It If You Try!

by Dr. Len July 25, 2010


A lot of experts write and talk about getting more exercise and making the commitment to a healthier lifestyle.  I am one of those folks who think staying active is important, especially as we get older.


But there are many out there who just can't seem to get it done.  One excuse or another, whether it is time, work, travel or other obligations-whatever, we just can't seem to get where we need to be when it comes to our health.


So forgive me while I take a personal moment to share with you my pride and admiration of someone very close to me who has made that commitment for the sake of her health and well-being to do something special, something they never dreamed they would be able to do.



Filed Under:

Exercise | Prevention

"Choose You" Is All About You--And Us

by Dr. Len May 04, 2010

Today is a special day at the American Cancer Society as we launch our brand new “Choose You” movement, which is designed to inspire women to take action and put their health first in order to stay well and help prevent cancer.


As I reflect on this moment while here in New York with other volunteers, friends and Society staff, I can’t help but think of how difficult it is for any of us these days to try to take care of ourselves given the frequently hectic, overcommitted and overstressed lifestyles that many of us face every day.


At heart, that’s what Choose You is all about: finding time for women to take care of themselves, making the commitment to do just that, and creating a social network that supports their efforts and gathers their friends and family around them as they strive to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle.


Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

Groundhog Day Diet: Overcoming Everyday Challenges

by Dr. Len March 16, 2010

It’s been about six weeks since I wrote about my “Groundhog Day Diet” so I thought it might be time for an update.


For those of you who are unaware, this is my annual diet ritual that—like many of you—I start every January to lose the same 20 or 30 pounds I have gained over the prior year, only to try to lose it again. 


(The inspiration for the name as you may have already guessed was Bill Murray’s movie of many years ago where he was consigned to live the same 24 hours again and again as he reported on the annual Groundhog Day “celebration” in Pennsylvania.)


For those of you who have no interest in my successes and failures of the past 10 weeks, you can move on.  But for some of you who share my frustration over trying to heed the call to eat healthier, you may find some inspiration in the struggles, solutions and outcome of my most recent dieting adventure.


Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

Groundhog Day Diet: Will Your Shadow Be Smaller?

by Dr. Len February 02, 2010

It’s Groundhog Day, so maybe this is a good time to offer a quick recap of my progress on what I call my “Groundhog Day Diet.” 


The “Groundhog Day Diet” is my name for the program I started four weeks ago to lose the same weight I lose and regain every year, hoping that maybe—just maybe—this year will be different.  (The diet is fondly named after the movie Groundhog Day which starred Bill Murray, where he repeated the same day, day after day after day.)


The only reason I am bothering you with this is the knowledge that I am not alone.  Many of you out there go through the same ritual every year.  And, if you are like me, four weeks into the process is about when you think it’s time for a splurge or have some other event(s) come up in your life that leads you astray, like this Sunday’s Super Bowl.


Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

Weight Loss And Health: Incentives, Not Punishment

by Dr. Len January 11, 2010

Ah, yes…Happy New Year (even if we are already half way into this new month.  My, how time flies)!!!


And with the New Year come new or repurposed resolutions, many of which are years old.  Among those resolutions—you guessed it—are losing weight, getting (more) exercise, and trying to once again try to stay healthy.


This New Year brings with it a new twist on the old resolution gambit, and that is how health care reform may—read that “may”—impact your focus on losing those long neglected pounds by penalizing you if you don't succeed. 


But maybe we should put aside the politics, and concentrate on innovative ways to “get into the game,” as is now happening in my hometown of Thomasville in southwest Georgia.


First, the thing about weight loss:


Every year we try to lose it, and every year we usually gain it back, maybe even with a few “bonus” pounds.  I’m not going to go into that discussion again, having done it many times in the past.


However, I will say that I am just like a lot of you.  Every year I make the pledge, usually get off to a good start, and inevitably falter.  This past year has been no different, and as I have mentioned in prior blogs, my travel schedule doesn’t help matters. 


That will not deter me from trying again, and hoping that maybe this year will be the year. So far, so good, with 6 pounds gone this past week and my resolve intact.  Come back in another couple of weeks and maybe I will tell you about my further hoped-for success. 


The sad part of this story is that I gained much of this weight over two or three months prior to the holidays, only to pump it up another couple of pounds during Christmas and New Years, in no small part due to my wife’s excellent cooking (and maybe a bit of my own barbecue).  It was no mean feat to gain all of those pounds, and I promise you I feel it.  (I call this phenomenon the “Groundhog diet,” after the Bill Murray film where he keeps reliving the same Groundhog Day, over and over and over again.)


Now I am back on the wagon, doing what I need to do.  We will see what happens.  Only time will tell.


However, there is some help here in my hometown.  And I think it is actually an interesting story, one that could possibly be duplicated in your community as well.


The program/concept is called “Team Lean”, and it is a community-wide weight loss program now just getting started for the third year here in Thomasville, Georgia.


Sponsored by the local YMCA, Archbold Hospital and Flowers Foods among others, Team Lean reaches out to over 18,000 people in the Thomasville community. Last year, over 1400 people participated, which to me is an astounding commitment.


The plan is fairly simple: form a team of four or five people, pay $50 a member for the ten week “competition”, and see which team loses the most weight.  Weigh-ins are done weekly, and the results are published in the local newspaper.  There are a large number of exercise classes for all ranges of fitness, held at the local Y as well as other training programs in the city.  Even the restaurants get into the game, advertising and promoting their “healthy choices” menus.


This really is a community-based effort.  The concept started at another YMCA in the area, and has been taken up here in Thomasville with enthusiasm.  I have to admit that I am impressed with the way the program is run, including the booklets, graphics and T-shirts that are all part of the program.  And when Team Lean starts, it truly becomes the talk of the town.


I especially like the fact that my wife has joined, because as you may have found out as well, losing weight on your own is a tough road to hoe.  Having company and companionship on the journey makes it just a bit easier. 


I also appreciate the fact that when my wife gets on her team and commits to her diet and exercise program, those same cooking skills that helped me gain the weight are terrific at helping me lose the weight as she changes from the “Southern cooking load ‘em up with fat, butter and salt cookbooks” to the “get-lean/healthy eating” varieties.  (By the way, her team is called “Five Flabby Fannies.”  Go figure…)


At the end of this ten week journey, there are cash awards given to the most successful teams.  In fact, since Team Lean started in 2008, over 30,000 pounds have been lost, and almost $100,000 in cash prizes have been paid out.


So that is how one town deep in the Southern farm belt is dealing with obesity on the community level.


Which brings me to the question of why all of this is so important politically in this era of health care reform. 


That’s because there is a movement afoot to charge you more for your health insurance if you happen to be one of the unfortunate millions in this country who are overweight and obese.


Last week, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association joined over 100 other organizations to express their concern about language in the Senate-passed bill health reform bill that would allow employers to charge employees thousands of dollars more in health insurance premiums (up to 30% or even 50% of a plan’s premium) if you don’t meet your employer’s pre-set “health targets.”


The practical implication would be that your employer could require you to lose weight or pay up.  If they were “nice,” that might mean 5 or 10 pounds.  But it could also mean getting into lean, mean fighting shape—which is unrealistic for almost all of us including yours truly.


Incentives such as workplace wellness programs would be OK according to the organizations that signed on to the letter.  But tying behaviors to health insurance premiums should not part of a reform program.


The sad reality is that losing weight—as an example—is hard to do.  There are few strategies that are successful in the long term.  Yes, there are those beautiful people on TV shows who work hard every day (all day in fact) at losing weight, and keep it off for long periods of time.  But that is not the medical reality that we physicians are familiar with.


Like Jessica Rabbit said in the movie, “I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.”  Weight loss has a lot to do with genes and environment.  Choice plays a role, but it is not choice alone that dictates our body types.  And if you live in a community where it is dangerous to go outside to take a walk, or where there are no grocery stores that offer attractive, affordable fresh meats and vegetables, you are just plain out of luck.


And now, with the Senate-passed bill in hand, you may not just be out of luck, you may be out of cash—and lots of it.


The short version: incentives, yes; punishment, no.  That’s the position of the American Cancer Society and many other respected health-related/focused organizations.


So that is where I am starting my New Year: trying once again to pursue the elusive goal of getting at least close to a medically-desirable weight along with my dear wife and partner. 


To help us along, we have a strong community program which provides the support and the social environment to make it happen (even our friends who had us over for dinner last night substituted skinless chicken breasts for ground hamburger in their delicious chili).


We want to be successful, but we want to do it on our terms.  Speaking as someone who has tried to “get it right” when it comes to diet and exercise, I know from personal experience how hard it is to do.


Being penalized as part of a government program for trying and failing to get there just doesn’t make sense, when there are so many other proven ways to get to where we want to go. 


We need to build on success--not punishment--when it comes to improving the public’s health.



Filed Under:

Diet | Exercise | Prevention

About Dr. Len

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.



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