In Memoriam: Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, author, “Anti-Cancer”

By Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent PR + Publishing Co., for the Costco Connection — David Servan-Schreiber (April 21, 1961 – July 24, 2011) was a Frenchphysician, neuroscientist and author. He was a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He was also a lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine of Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1.

Having been treated twice for a malignant brain tumor, Servan-Schreiber became a leading figure in his engagement for integrative approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. He popularized his knowledge through teaching seminars, lectures, books, a blog, and audiobooks. However, he died of brain cancer in Fécamp on July 24, 2011, almost 20 years after his cancer diagnosis.

Below is an article I had the privilege to write before his death. In the time since, his book has sold more than 1 million copies. Click here to buy Anticancer: A New Way of Life.

For the Costco Connection: An Answer to Cancer

Before he was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 31, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber could be found scarfing down a bowl of chili con carne on the elevator at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine between teaching classes and seeing patients.

“I’d sometimes add a bagel to the mix, and wash it all down with a can of Coke,” said Servan-Schreiber, the author of Anticancer: A New Way of Life. “It’s a pretty scary mix to me now.”

However, it took another bout with cancer seven years later, when he was 38, before the neuropsychiatrist could bring himself to slow down or change his habits.

Although both times Servan-Schreiber — who co-founded the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and was a founding member of Doctors Without Borders in the U. S. — fought his tumor with traditional methods such as chemotherapy, the second time around he also decided to learn everything he could to help his body defend itself against the illness.

“I felt then, as I feel now, that it is completely unreasonable to try to cure cancer without the best of conventional Western medicine,” the French-born physician told The Connection. “But I also firmly believe that it is completely unreasonable to rely only on this purely technical approach and neglect the natural capacity of our bodies to protect against tumors. We can take advantage of this natural protection to either prevent the disease or enhance the benefits of treatments.”

The reality is that cancer cells lie dormant in all of us, Servan-Schreiber explains. But with some simple changes, it is possible to keep those cells from becoming life-threatening tumors.

“In the West, one person in four will die of cancer, but three in four will not,” he says. “Their defense mechanisms will hold out. The trick is to keep the cells from developing into life-threatening tumors by turning on the body’s cancer-fighting capacities.”

He points out in his book — a part personal account, part reader-friendly biology lesson — that some foods specifically prevent or inhibit cell growth by more than 80 percent in certain cancers, such as brain, colon, lung, and prostate. These cancer-inhibiting foods include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic, kale, leeks and scallions.

Getting at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day is also important, he adds, as is steering clear of household cleaning products that contain alkylphenols. He also advises avoiding deodorants and antiperspirants with aluminum, and not heating foods in plastic containers made with PVCS, polystyrene or Styrofoam.

He also recommends taking time every day to do a little yoga or tai chi—anything that will calm and center the body and mind.

“It’s all about being conscious of what you put into your body and what you surround yourself with—including friends who have a healthy outlook and work that makes you feel good,” Servan-Schreiber believes, noting that stress is another thing to be mindful of
“Stress is something you can avoid, but how you deal with it is really the key,” he says.

A typical day for him now includes 20 minutes of meditation upon rising, riding his bike around Pittsburgh—or Paris, his second home—and eating an apple with ginger and soy yogurt for breakfast. He also drinks green tea instead of coffee, has an 85-percent-cocoa dark chocolate treat in the afternoon and goes for a 20- to 30-minute jog at the end of the day to get his heart rate up and his thoughts together.

“I pay a lot of attention to what I dedicate my time to in my professional and in my personal life,” he concludes. “It has taken some time, but I have learned to ride out more serenely the unavoidable stresses of life.”

TO HELP STAVE OFF CANCER Dr. David Servan-Schreiber recommends taking the following steps.


  • Percliloroethynene (tetracliloroethylene), is used in dry cleaning. It may be possible to find dry cleaners that don’t use this. Air out dry-cleaned garments for several hours before wearing.
  • Don’t use cleaning products that contain alkylphenols.
  • Don’t use deodorants and antiperspirants with aluminum.
  • Don’t use cosmetics, shampoo, nail polish, etc., with estrogens, placental products, parabens, or phthalates.
  • Don’t use household pesticides and insecticides.
  • Don’t heat foods or liquids in plastic containers made with PVCS, polystyrene or Styrofoam, and don’t prepare food in scratched Teflon pans.


  • Eat grass-fed organic meat, milk, cheese yogurt and eggs.
  • Reduce intake of sugar, white flour, and products containing omega-6 fatty acids (sunflower oil, soybean oil, margarine, and hydrogenated fats).
  • Increase omega-3 intake (fish, grass- or linseed-fed animal products).
  • Increase intake of anticancer products (turmeric, green tea, soy, fruits, vegetables),
  • Filter tap water using a carbon filter, inverse osmosis, or drink mineral or spring water.


  • Perform 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
  • Expose yourself to sunlight for 20 minutes each day (or take 1,000 IU of Vitamin D per day).
  • Practice a method of relaxation and self-centering (yoga, meditation, or tai chi).