With all the resources of the internet at our fingertips, it is tempting to think that all answers to medical questions are available at the click of a mouse.
But information that’s out on the web can be complicated, misleading, or downright incorrect, so it pays to get medical advice directly from the experts. At an upcoming panel at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Dr. Sharyn Lewin, the medical director of gynecologic oncology at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, will moderate a panel of medical experts that will discuss what we can do to prevent cancer and live longer, healthier lives.
“Nearly half of all cancers could be prevented” by eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcoholic consumption, Dr. Lewin said. For example, “there are 11 different types of cancers associated with obesity.”
That idea that we can reduce the incidence of cancer by altering our habits is based on decades of biomedical research, Dr. Lewin said. She cited a study, published this year in the British Medical Journal, that completed an “umbrella review of the literature” on obesity and cancer. (An umbrella review gathers together many studies done by many research groups to determine the strength of evidence for a medical claim.)
In a podcast posted on the journal’s website, British researcher Dr. Maria Kyrgiou, the study’s primary author, noted a serious public health issue: “The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled since the 1980s, and it is projected that we will see significant further increases in the future.” Her team’s research study confirmed that “obesity increases the risk of developing or dying from cancer. This is particularly the case for cancers of the digestive organs, and for hormonally driven malignancies.” The 11 types of cancer linked to obesity are stomach, esophageal, multiple myeloma, colon, rectal, biliary tract system, pancreatic, breast, uterine, ovarian, and kidney cancer. “I think the clinical message from all this is we now know which cancers are strongly associated with obesity, and we can target these high-risk groups that would benefit from targeted prevention strategies,” Dr. Kyrgiou said.
Dr. Lewin’s goal is to provide her patients — and the public — with the education that will help them make better life choices. In 2014, she founded the Lewin Fund to Fight Women’s Cancers, which is “dedicated to combating the serious challenges facing one in three women and their families” The fund’s website, www.thelewinfund.org, explains that as “a leading nationally recognized public charity for ALL women with cancer…the Lewin Fund strategically partners with innovative organizations and esteemed researchers from the global community.”
The fund, a nonprofit with a completely volunteer board, was started with a gift from “a grateful patient who passed away from advanced uterine cancer,” Dr. Lewin said. “She had a vision of how women with cancer should be treated.” Dr. Lewin wanted to name the foundation after the patient, but her family, who is very private, declined the honor. The fund, therefore, is named for Dr. Lewin.
Describing the fund’s benefactor, “She had lived a wonderful life, and was particularly struck by the young women who had cancer,” Dr. Lewin said. And since her care was “integrative,” meaning that it included both medical and psychosocial support, “she wanted other women to have those opportunities.
“Women’s health care has always been my passion,” Dr. Lewin continued. “The foundation lets us help women on a broader scale. It is the only organization that helps women with any type of cancer, their spouses, and their families.”
She plans on introducing some of these concepts when she speaks at the JCC. “The JCC program will focus on health and wellness,” she said. The panel will be moderated in a relaxed, interactive, talk-show style, and audience members will be encouraged to ask questions. “There are four dynamic speakers,” she said. “Dr. Jason Konner is head of medical oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Monmouth” in Middletown. “He will talk about gynecologic cancer prevention as well as the latest treatments for gynecologic cancer.”
Dr. Wendy Hurst, a gynecologist at Englewood Hospital, will talk about “gynecologic health, sexual health, hormone replacement therapy, bone health and osteoporosis, and general health and quality of life issues,” Dr. Lewin said.
The third panelist, Dr. Dorothy Chae, is an acupuncturist in Bergen County. “Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine,” Dr. Lewin said. “It is used in weight reduction, smoking cessation, infertility, to help prevent neuropathy, prevent nausea, and reduce pain.”
Finally, Debbie Bessen, a nutritionist at Holy Name Hospital whose work is dedicated to the Cancer Center, will talk about how good nutrition can prevent cancer.
Other local organizations, including Sharsheret, the Teaneck-based group that provides support to patients and families facing breast and ovarian cancer, also will be at the panel discussion.
“Less than half of women see their gynecologists annually,” Dr. Lewin said. “Women tend to prioritize their families before themselves. At the event they will learn about the importance of taking care of themselves, so they can then worry about taking care of others in their lives.”
Dr. Lewin said that women should see a gynecologist every year to screen for cervical, uterine, and breast cancer, to get mammograms, and learn about bone health, family history and genetics, the importance of healthy body weight, lifestyle issues, contraception, and sexual health practices.
Dr. Lewin, who now lives in Bergen County, grew up in Kansas and graduated from the University of Kansas’s medical school. She was inspired to pursue a medical career by her grandmother, Dr. Gerda Bruno, a gynecologist and a pioneering advocate for women’s healthcare, who practiced in Washington Heights.
Dr. Miryam Z. Wahrman, the Jewish Standard’s science correspondent, is a professor of biology at William Paterson University. She is the author of “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World,” which provides essential tips on how to avoid harmful germs and reduce the risk of infectious disease.
Who: Dr. Sharyn Lewin of Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck
What: Moderating a panel, “Own Your Health,”
Where: At the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, 411 East Clinton Ave., Tenafly
When: On Sunday, November 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Also: Admission is free, and the morning includes complimentary childcare, kid-friendly activities, a photo booth, chair massages, refreshments, and giveaways.
To register: Google “Own your health,” “Kaplen JCC,” and “Eventbrite