Cancer chat: Hookah, sweeteners, prostate cancer and more

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Earlier today, TheGrio’s Dr. Ty discussed your questions with cancer specialist Dr. Otis Brawley on Twitter!

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the Twitter chat held earlier today on cancer and African-Americans. If you want to read it verbatim as it happened live, click on the Twitter hashtag #TheGrioCancerChat.

Dr. Brawley is as professor of hematology, oncology, medicine and epidemiology at Emory University. He is also chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society — promoting the goals of cancer prevention, early detection, and quality treatment.

Question to Dr. Otis Brawley: Any thoughts on urban communities, pollution and cancer?

Answer: Pollution does cause some cancers, especially lung cancer. Auto exhaust can cause cancer and is more concentrated in big cities. However, I don’t see racial differences in pollution. On the other hand, it is true that waste dumps and environmental toxins tend to be more prevalent in poor areas.

Q: Can you address the concerns African-Americans have with the medical industry?

A: Mistrust is a significant issue, so blacks should question. It may actually be wise to. Some of the screening messages without scientific evidence have justified mistrust.

Q: I have Stage 4 cancer. Chemotherapy isn’t working. Should I do an experimental trial?

A: Yes, but find a good trial with good physicians, preferably university hospitals. Call the American Cancer Society help line at 1-800-227-2345 to find good clinical trials.

Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent prostate cancer? Baldness was recently associated with prostate cancer. So, I’m at higher risk.

A: The link between baldness and the risk of prostate cancer is inconclusive. Some studies say yes, other studies say no. Those interested in prostate cancer prevention should discuss drugs such as finasteride and dutasteride with their doctor.

Q: Do you suggest those full-body scans that you can pay cash for to detect hidden cancers?

A: Full-body scans are a rip-off. There are specific screening tests that certain people should take. A full-body scan is not one of them. For the ACS’ recommended screenings, please see our guidelines here.

Q: I heard that artificial sweeteners increase your risk of cancer. Is that a myth or truth?

A: There is data suggesting that saccharin (found in Sweet’n Low) and cyclamates cause certain cancers, but this data is weak. There is no credible data to suggest that sweeteners such as Splenda, Stevia or NutraSweet cause cancer.

Q: Does smoking hookah have the same risks for cancer that smoking cigarettes does?

A: Yes! Don’t smoke Hookah.

Q: Some say we screen too much for prostate cancer. Is that true for black men who are dying more from it?

A: The evidence that prostate cancer screening saves lives is extremely weak and did not exist before 2011. Substantial misinformation that promotes prostate cancer screening is reason for blacks to mistrust the medical profession. A statement from the American College of Physicians: “men should be informed of the limited benefits and substantial harms associated with prostate cancer screening.”

Q: Why do you think it is important for African-Americans to participate in the Cancer Prevention Study-3?

A: The CPS-3 is an American Cancer Society study of habits and cancer risk. People of varying habits being a part of this study is important. Accrual of minorities is extremely important to the success of this study. Also, men need to enroll. CPS-3 has accrued over 200,000 people, with a goal of 300,000. We will follow them for the next several decades with questions about diet and exercise habits. For more, visit

Q: What are doctors doing to find drugs that treat cancers that are different in blacks, for example black women and breast cancer?

A: It is a myth that breast cancer is a different disease in black women compared to white women. It is true that 30 percent of black women with breast cancer have triple-negative disease. But, 20 percent of white women have it as well. There are already substantial efforts happening to find treatments for triple-negative breast cancer in black women.

Q: How early is too early for black men to be tested for colon cancer if there’s a family history on dad’s side?

A: Anyone of any race with first-degree relatives – mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters – with colorectal cancer at an early age should talk to a gastroenterologist about possible early screening.

Q: I have a suspicious mole, but I have no insurance. Should I run to get a biopsy? How do I get free screening?

A: You need to see a general internist for a recommendation. This is why I support the Affordable Care Act!

Q: Do we spend too much money on cancer treatments and not enough on prevention?

A: European countries with better outcomes stress prevention more than the United States. We need to address our ratio of prevention to treatment. Americans die every day and suffer every day because they cannot afford healthcare. I wish all politicians realize this.

Read the full Twitter chat at #TheGrioCancerChat.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.