Grill Safe This Memorial Day

We know eating healthy is important in fighting cancer. So how can you enjoy your Memorial Day cookout with friends and families without tossing healthy eating aside?

Each year, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center dietitians field questions from patients about whether it’s safe to grill, given the evidence that grilled meats may contain cancer-causing agents. But new guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that the type of food you grill may be more important than how you prepare it.

Hot dogs and hamburgers – the all-American summer standards – may be among the worst culprits in causing colorectal cancer. Research has shown a convincing link between diets high in processed meat and red meat – which includes beef, pork and lamb. Every 3.5 ounces of processed meat — about two hot dogs – increases the risk for colorectal cancer by 42%.

Given the data, we recommend our patients follow AICR guidelines. Limit the amount of red meat you eat. Think of it as an occasional indulgence. Make processed meats including hot dogs a treat for a special occasion – like an annual outing at the ballpark. Use these guidelines year-round to lower your risk.

And this summer, continue to use caution when grilling. All animal meats produce cancer-causing chemicals when they are seared at high temperatures — whether on a grill or on a conventional stove. It’s still unclear whether eating these chemicals will increase your cancer risk. But while researchers continue to learn more about whether there’s a link between grilling and cancer, you can protect yourself and still enjoy a backyard barbecue. Read on to learn strategies to limit your exposure.

Grilling tips

You know the blackened bits that cling to the meat? The stuff cooks love for its flavor? Well, unfortunately, that’s the stuff that contains all the toxins that may increase your cancer risk. Try not to eat it and consider these tips for limiting your exposure:

  • Chicken out. The most important thing you can do — whether you’re grilling or not — is limit red meats and processed meats that contain nitrates. Choose chicken or fish instead.
  • Marinate your meat. Research has shown that a marinade can reduce the formation of carcinogens by more than 90%.
  • Experiment with vegetables and fruits. Cancer-causing chemicals arise from grilling only animal tissue. Blackened bits on fruits and vegetables are harmless.
  • Scale back meat portions. Consider kabobs. It’s a great way to add fruits and vegetables while cutting back on meat.
  • Limit flare-ups that char food by selecting leaner meats or grilling on aluminum foil. If you use foil, punch small holes to allow the fat to drain.
  • Flip meat frequently to prevent it from getting too black.

The American Cancer Society also offers A Backyard Chef’s Guide to Healthy Grilling. For more safer options to serve on Memorial Day, or anytime, here are some great recipes. Share your favorite summertime recipes with us below.

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Keeping Nausea at Bay

Edward Rosario preps fruit for a smoothie fortified with protein powder which he can tolerate to combat nausea.

Nausea is a common side effect of cancer – especially for people going through chemotherapy. When non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient Edward Rosario came to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, his nausea was overwhelming.

Although it can be difficult to find relief, there are several ways to combat an unsettled stomach. Rosario’s relief came when the Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic prescribed him medicine to help treat the symptom.

Emily Mackler, Pharm.D., a pharmacist in the clinic, says there are different medications to treat nausea. A queasy stomach may be caused by neurotransmitters within the brain, and medications can be prescribed to target these. Other medications target receptors lining the gastrointestinal tract that can contribute to nausea. In some cases, more than one medication may be used to provide the best control. “We also look at the medicines a person is already taking to see if those are contributing to the nausea,” Mackler says. “If so, we’ll look at modifying the patient’s medical regimen by changing how they take their medicine or perhaps by switching to a different drug so they can feel some relief.”

Medicine is one way to combat nausea, but staying away from certain foods and rethinking portion size and meal timing can also make a difference in relieving nausea or keeping it under control. Continue reading

The Impact of Cancer on Minorities

Although cancer deaths have declined for both whites and African-Americans living in the United States, African-Americans continue to suffer the greatest burden for each of the most common types of cancer.

April is National Minority Health Month, so we thought that this would be a great time to discuss the impact of cancer on minorities in the United States and what the University of Michigan is doing to address this problem of minorities and cancer health disparities.

Minorities and Cancer Disparities

According to the National Cancer Institute, “cancer health disparities” are defined as “differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of cancer and related adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.”

Complex and interrelated factors contribute to the observed disparities in cancer incidence and death among racial, ethnic and underserved groups. The most obvious factors are associated with a lack of health care coverage and low socioeconomic status. Although cancer deaths have declined for both whites and African-Americans living in the United States, African-Americans continue to suffer the greatest burden for each of the most common types of cancer.

Other examples of the impact of cancer on minorities include:

  • African-American males have the highest incidence and mortality rates for colon, prostate and lung cancers.
  • Cervical cancer incidence is the highest among Hispanic/Latina women when compared to all other ethnic groups.
  • Liver cancer, usually caused by exposure to the hepatitis B virus, disproportionately affects Asian-Americans.
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to have the poorest survival from “all cancers combined” than any other racial group.
  • Poor people are at greater risk of being diagnosed and treated for cancer at late stages of disease.


Research studies, including many performed by University of Michigan investigators such as Lisa Newman, Arden Morris, Christopher Sonnenday and Ken Resnicow, continue to document persistent and significant disparities in access to health care and disease outcomes. Often times, researchers are looking into the impact of factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, geography and socioeconomic status on cancer risk, screening or outcomes. The Cancer Center has a health disparities work group that meets quarterly to collaborate, present their work and share research findings.

Learn more about cancer and disparities among minorities

Other areas of interest include:

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Throat Cancer: More Common Than You Think

Michael Douglas, Sigmund Freud, Ulysses S. Grant, George Harrison and Babe Ruth –what could these people possibly have in common?  Throat Cancer.

Even though it’s not talked about as much as some other types of cancer, throat cancer isn’t rare. In fact it’s the sixth most common cancer in the United States.

Throat cancer can start in the soft tissues of the upper, middle or bottom portion of the throat and can include the voice box (larnyx).

Researchers have found that 85% percent of throat cancers occur after exposure to cancer-causing chemicals like tobacco and alcohol and tend to develop in areas where these chemicals have the most contact. Those at risk for developing throat cancer are people who drink 3 or more alcoholic beverages per day, or smoke or chew tobacco (or have in the past).  People that use both tobacco and alcohol are at an even greater risk for developing throat cancer than people who use alcohol or tobacco alone.

Symptoms like difficulty swallowing, a sore or painful area in the mouth or throat, a persistent hoarse voice, or a lump in the throat or neck that doesn’t go away should be checked by a doctor.

The good news is that throat cancer may be prevented by changing habits and can be treated if caught early. You can reduce your risk for developing throat cancer by receiving regular medical check- ups, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and seeing the doctor when symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks.

Continue reading about throat cancer and risk factors and treatment options:

New Test for Prostate Cancer

For many years the PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test, together with a digital rectal exam, has been used as a screening tool to identify men that may have prostate cancer. If the PSA level is elevated, then men typically need to undergo additional testing — including a prostate biopsy. While a useful tool, the PSA test shows only the level of the PSA and can’t tell if prostate cancer or another medical condition is the reason for the elevation.

Enter the PCA3 test — a new urine test that University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have been working on to detect prostate cancer.  The PCA3 urine test can provide additional information to help a man and his physician decide if a prostate biopsy is needed. Simply put: prostate cells have PCA3 genes that stimulate the production of a small amount of a certain protein.  Because prostate cancer cells make more of this protein than normal prostate cells, men with prostate cancer can be identified with this test when PCA3 proteins leak into the urine.

Men interested in PCA3 testing should ask their physician if PCA3 testing is appropriate for their individual situation. The University of Michigan does offer the PROGENSA® PCA3 test as a supplement to the PSA test, upon physician request. To learn more about next steps for PROGENSA® PCA3 urine test at U-M, contact Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125.

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Creative Control: Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

"There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient's control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they're the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions." -- Linda Westervelt (pictured)

Linda Westervelt enjoys making her own choices. Too often as a cancer patient, however, she has to leave decisions about her treatment and health in the hands of her doctors.

But when Westervelt participates in the art therapy program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, she’s in control.

“It’s nice to make decisions in art therapy, and it’s a good outlet for that,” Westervelt says. “There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient’s control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they’re the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions.”

U-M offers one-on-one art therapy sessions for cancer patients and survivors, led by Margaret Nowak, the Cancer Center’s art therapist. The sessions are designed to help patients increase self-awareness and cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences.

Nowak says that the dynamic of these sessions allows patients control they sometimes lack in other aspects of their lives. Sessions begin with a discussion about the patient’s health and well-being, and from there, Nowak helps direct patients toward an artistic avenue of their choice.

Read the rest of Creative Controlor check out our art therapy video casts and try it for yourself!  If you’re a patient, please call 877-907-0859 to make an art therapy appointment or to get more information.

Have you tried art therapy?  If so, please share your experiences with us!