Dr. Mizrahi, some researchers claim there is no link between genetics and cancer. What are your views on this?
There is smaller percentage of cancers that have genetic associations.
While many cancers are caused by the environment (pollution, radiation exposure, high UV) or poor lifestyle (smoking, high alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity), there is smaller percentage of cancers that have genetic associations. Some people with particular gene faults may be pre-disposed, or are at higher risk for developing certain cancer types.
What has been the reaction of parents towards genetic testing of their children to establish health conditions?
It is a delicate situation as having a genetic mutation doesn’t always lead to developing a disease. So on the one hand, it may provide a level of anxiety to know your child is at increased risk even if they never get sick. However families could become more prepared and engaged with their medical team more regularly, providing an active approach if their child was to get sick, and also live a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, some treatments are now known to have better cure rates for people with particular types of genetic mutations, so this has helped to personalise the treatments and improve survival rates for some cancers.
What percentage of children suffer from different forms of cancer compared with grown ups?
Childhood cancer has a large impact on communities but is actually quite rare.
Childhood cancer has a large impact on communities but is actually quite rare, accounting for only 1% of all cancers. Although this is still around 160,000 children globally each year, equating to around 1 in 330 children getting cancer. The most common childhood cancers are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, brain tumours and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Could you please tell us about your efforts in the recovery of cancer survivors, both children and adults.
I am an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and I provide exercise-medicine for cancer patients throughout chemotherapy and after completing treatment as part of research. We use this research to try and change how patients are managed all around the world through educating medical teams, the public, patients themselves, and their families. Through research, we have found that patients who exercise have improved heart function, muscle strength, psychological health, aerobic fitness, quality of life and even lower mortality rates, including a lower chance of the cancer returning. I have no doubt that patients and survivors who are more active will do better physically and mentally compared to if they are not active, so it is important that I continue my work and advocate for exercise-medicine to be part of standard treatment in all cancers.
How do children cancer survivors perceive themselves especially after they grow up?
Having not had cancer, it is hard for me to speak of others’ experiences. However, it is common for some childhood cancer survivors to dedicate themselves to becoming a nurse or a doctor when they grow up to help others as they have been helped. We recently had a nurse start working at our hospital who received her cancer treatment there as a child. Particularly for teenagers who are diagnosed, they can mature very quickly as they are thrusted into a very challenging world, when it is already difficult enough to be a teenager. For the younger ones, it can be an exceptionally challenging time as they endure lengthy treatments and spend a lot of their childhood years in and out of hospital rather than in child care and school.
Please tell us about your growing up years, your self motivation and the ones who inspired you into this area of dedicating and aiding cancer survivors.
I am in a position to create new evidence which helps change the normal treatment approach.
I was always physically active and I loved to play sport (soccer, cricket, footy, running) and I always wanted to help people. So I combined my passions to become an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, a health professional that uses exercise as medicine to assist people with chronic diseases. I learnt that I could become a clinician-researcher. This way, I can see patients and provide support, but I am in a position to create new evidence which helps change the normal treatment approach with an active and positive one. I honestly fell into this area after learning the many health challenges that cancer survivors can face, many of which exercise has shown to help with in other conditions. So I found it bewildering that more research wasn’t being done and more cancer survivors weren’t receiving exercise support from their medical teams. After specialising with a Masters and PhD in Exercise-Oncology, it became my goal to help bridge this gap and advocate for exercise-medicine in cancer care in as many communities around the world as possible.
Are you able to switch off while away from helping patients and what are your other interests?
Part of my cause is to help people but it is equally if not more vital to have a great home life. In my spare time, I spend quality time with my wife and young son. I keep as active as I can, having run 2 marathons in the past 2 years, and now doing a lot of home-exercise classes during COVID-19. I love playing the guitar and drums, as well as going camping, I also really enjoy teaching undergraduate exercise physiology at UNSW, it’s great to see students take great pride in learning to help others too.
Our readers are mainly the youth in different parts of the world who look up to achievers and result oriented individuals such as yourself for inspiration. A word of advice for them?
Opening new doors can lead to new and inspiring life trajectories that you never would have considered.
I firstly recommend to do something that you are passionate about. It is important that deep down it is something you are really interested in. You only have one life and it goes quickly, so be sure to enjoy it! Also, put yourself out into the world. Contact mentors or family friends and ask them for advice or even an internship to develop skills and experience. It’s good to have a plan but don’t be too set on a particular career path, as doors with different opportunities will present themselves at different stages in your life, even doors you may not expect. Opening new doors can lead to new and inspiring life trajectories that you never would have considered. I never would have imagined doing what I do when I was at school, it just happened after walking through these different doors at different stages of my life. If you have a positive attitude and maintain good relationships with others, opportunities will always come to you.
Photos: From the Archive of Dr. David Mizrahi