Cancer crusader and respected NHS oncologist Dr Mohammad Muneeb Khan has an ambitious goal: to reduce the lifetime risk of cancer from 50 per cent to less than five per cent.
While cancer-busting treatments continue to improve, his message is that there are many simple lifestyle-related steps we can all take to minimise the risk of developing the dreaded disease if we replace fear with insight.
Here, we speak to Dr Khan, founder of UK-based international charity Killing Cancer Kindly and the author of two anti-cancer guides, You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly) and The How, What & Why of Cancer: Separating Fact from Fiction, to learn more.
Q. Working full time as an oncologist AND running an international educational charity must be exhausting. What keeps you motivated to continue your cancer crusade?
A. That’s a very interesting question because I have never thought of the two to be different from each other nor in conflict. As an oncologist, it is my duty not only to treat cancer but also stop it from happening in the first place. My motivation, I guess, is killing cancer or to be more specific Killing Cancer Kindly, without making the body suffer from the effects of cancer or the side effects of treatment. Cancer prevention and treatment are two ends of the same spectrum with prevention being the best cure.
Q. What first attracted you towards a medical career, and a specialism in cancer?
A. Dr Qazi Mohib ur Rahman Mohib, my very first doctor and who also happened to be my uncle. He was an icon and role model for many in the medical profession. I was three years old when he treated me for pneumonia and attending his clinic left a lasting impression on me. He was passionate about saving human lives and reducing suffering. If the patient was poor, he would provide free tests and medications. And he was a very jolly and entertaining gentleman. He wrote poetry and did magic tricks to entertain sick children. His aim was not just to make his patients feel better but also to make them smile and laugh. He was always calm and composed with a reassuring smile. But most importantly, he gave his patients the dignity and honour that every human being deserves.
Q. How has the medical community’s perspective on cancer changed over the last few decades?
A. Cancer has become more treatable and curable than before. Often it is managed as a chronic disease which requires regular treatment with medication. However, the fear associated with cancer as a taboo topic has persisted and both doctors and patients, even patient families, are uncomfortable discussing it or even addressing it as a preventable disease. A cancer diagnosis is still the most painful part of medical practice. The fear and stigma of cancer and its treatment leads to an attitude of avoiding the topic altogether whenever possible. It’s like the metaphorical elephant in the room that is occupying a lot of space yet everyone is trying to ignore it because they do not know what to do about it, and the sheer magnitude of the challenge overwhelms them. Through the international charity I have founded, Killing Cancer Kindly, and my two books You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly) and The How, What & Why of Cancer: Separating Fact from Fiction, I aim to free people — doctors, patients and the public — of this fear by empowering them with the knowledge and understanding that cancer can frequently be prevented, controlled, or treated, and can often even be cured, especially if detected early. But to achieve that, first we have to learn how to face the problem by acknowledging and understanding it.
Q. What one message about cancer do you want everyone to know?
A. Cancer is not always inevitable. Our body has the ability to kill cancer and new treatments are enhancing and strengthening this ability to achieve good results. The future of cancer treatment is very bright and full of hope.
Q. What inspired you to write your books, and how do you think they differ from other titles?
A. Cancer has been and still is a very taboo topic. My patients, their families and a very close colleague are the main inspiration for my books. They answer common questions about cancer which I have frequently been asked over the last two decades.
It is ironic that despite cancer being the second biggest killer of mankind there are very few books available which help us understand and prevent this disease. Of the top 100 books available on the subject, very few are written by specialists in the field and most talk about a particular aspect of cancer. Some are even straightforward sale pitches for certain products of dubious efficacy.
Another reason is that cancer prevention in comparison to cancer treatment does not generate money so there is little incentive for drug companies or the health industry to back cancer awareness and prevention missions like Killing Cancer Kindly.
Hence, our team is on the front lines of the war against cancer, increasing the public’s understanding and empowering them with knowledge. Once armed with knowledge, people will have the power and confidence to combat cancer and it will cease to be a taboo topic.
Q. Your books are packed with straightforward, actionable advice to reduce the risk of developing cancer. If someone could only make one change to their lifestyle, what would you suggest and why?
A. Everything in moderation including moderation. The principle is very simple. Do not overindulge in anything, good or bad, diet or exercise BUT every now and then stretch your limits and challenge yourself. This is the basic principle of intermittent fasting and high-intensity intermittent exercise, both of which have shown better benefits than strict, monotonous diets or regular exhausting exercise regimens.
So, eat healthy in moderation but every now and then restrict your food intake with periods of fasting on some days and indulge yourself on others. Life is a rollercoaster and our body is designed to go through highs and lows with stretches of smooth sailings.
This principle applies to both the body and the mind. A healthy mind needs episodes of happiness, unhappiness, and calmness. If you get stuck in any one of these phases (mania, depression, or sheer boredom) you end up with mental illness.
I have dedicated a few chapters in my books to these principles and cited examples of communities around the globe who live a long and cancer-free life full of youth, health, and energy.
Q. Your charity Killing Cancer Kindly is dedicated to educating the public on cancer. Why is this important?
A. We live in a world where information is rapidly replacing knowledge. Anyone can know about anything at any time by searching it online. But most of the web-based information is contradictory and confusing. There is a lot of white noise and very little knowledge.
Our aim is not just to inform people but make them understand the reasons behind the information. By doing this we can empower them to make better and safer decisions.
But I must add that neither our mission nor my books tell people how they should live their lives. We are not instructive about diet or lifestyles. All we do is arm the public with knowledge so they can defend themselves against cancer and live a healthier and happier life.
Q. What are your long-term plans with the Killing Cancer Kindly charity?
A. Killing Cancer Kindly is committed to reducing the risk of cancer. We are aiming to develop a better understanding of this disease among the public.
The first step is to prevent cancer, stem the rising tide of this disease, and then to find better and more effective methods of treating and curing it. We are working on trial designs for cancer prevention, treatment, and cure in the near future.
Our slogan is “Stay younger, live longer, preserve health, and prevent disease by killing cancer kindly” because all the methods of preventing and killing cancer automatically help you retain your youth and live for longer.
We want to create a happier and better cancer-free world.
Q. You have released two anti-cancer guides, You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly) and more recently The How, What & Why of Cancer: Separating Fact from Fiction. What is the difference between them?
A. Both books are complementary to each other. The first, You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly), is a comprehensive guide on all aspects of understanding cancer. I call it my Opus Magnum of Oncology. My second book, The How, What & Why of Cancer, is a 77-page concise guide which does what it says on the cover, providing a brief and easy introduction that empowers you with all the essential knowledge to understand cancer. Our team is planning two more titles in the near future but I would like to keep them as a surprise for now.
Q. Surprisingly, given the subject matter, your books have a lot of humour interspersed with the facts. Why did you choose to do this?
A. One of our readers called my first book, You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly), a “seriously funny” book. I take it in the literal sense. It is a serious topic which has been discussed in a light-hearted way.
Humour is the best weapon against fear and cancer’s biggest weapon is scaring us from knowing more about it. That is the reason why it’s still the ‘C’ word, a taboo topic.
My aim was to write books which would replace fear with hope and make the readers smile, chuckle, and laugh, entertaining and enlightening them at the same time. Bland facts are mere information which is easily forgotten. We tend to remember things that touch an emotional cord with us, especially those that make us smile and laugh. Memories associated with joy and happiness are retained for longer. And there are many entertaining and funny facts about cancer which need to be shared to increase awareness and understanding.
I also wanted my books to be reference guides and sources of inspiration that people would like to consult again and again. And it is my desire that every time they pick up one of my books it will make them smile.
Q. One of the most eye-opening sections in your book raises the potential for just 30 seconds of sunlight exposure each morning to kill cancer. Can you tell us more about the ‘Do Absolutely Nothing’ Plan, as you call it, and how confident are you in its potential for cancer prevention?
A. Exposure to the early hours of morning sunlight, even as little as 30 seconds, triggers release of melatonin, one of the most potent detox chemicals, in every cell of our body. This can help reduce the risk of cancer by preventing and repairing DNA damage.
How much is the (quantitative) benefit in terms of cancer risk reduction is yet to be established, although general observations comparing human communities with and without exposure to morning sunlight show a stark difference in the cancer risk rates. Further studies will pin down how much of this difference is down to the melatonin release and how much could be due to other confounding factors such as diet and exercise.
Our team at Killing Cancer Kindly has plans for carrying out research in this regard and it is our hope that the results will be of great benefit in preventing and treating cancer.
I am a big proponent of ‘Doing Absolutely Nothing’, a term I have coined for getting the 30 seconds to 30 minutes of early morning sunlight to set our body clock and trigger the release of melatonin, because it is totally free of cost, takes very little effort, and the benefits might prove priceless.
Dr Mohammad Muneeb Khan’s two books, You’ll Wish You Were an Elephant (Killing Cancer Kindly) and The How, What & Why of Cancer: Separating Fact from Fiction are available now on Amazon, in paperback, hardcover, and eBook formats. For more information about Killing Cancer Kindly, visit www.killingcancerkindly.com or follow the charity on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or TikTok. You can also follow Dr Khan on YouTube.