Interview with Local Physician Author

Interview with Local Physician Author

"Take Control of Your Cancer Risk: A WebMD Essential Guide."

John Whyte, MD, MPH of Great Falls, authored the newly released book, "Take Control of Your Cancer Risk: A WebMD Essential Guide," [2021]. Whyte is the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD.

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Whyte is a board-certified internal medicine physician who has been interacting with the public on timely public health issues for two decades. As Chief Medical Officer, he leads the five-person physician team at WebMD. He is in charge of initiatives to build strategic partnerships that will result in meaningful change in the face of critical public health issues. 

Whyte said he chose to write "Take Control of Your Cancer Risk" because "there was a lot of misinformation" about cancer. The public, he said, is unaware of the critical functions of food, sleep, stress, and the meaning of physical activity as it relates to cancer. 

Whyte said their motto at WebMD is "Better information. Better health."

Whyte observed in his conversations with patients, particularly regarding screenings and strategies to prevent cancer, that patients had wrong information, and particularly they were misinformed about cancer's genetic connection. He recalled some of his patients saying, "I do not have a family history of cancer … [so] I am not going to get cancer.” Some patients think it is simply bad luck.

Only approximately 30 percent of cancers are caused by genetics or inherited mutations, Whyte said. The remainder is dependent on one's way of life and there are steps we can take to mitigate risk, guided by science.  Whyte continues to see patients on a weekly basis at Kaiser Permanente in Northern Virginia.

The book's target audience, Whyte said, is people ideally in their 20s and 30s. "That's when we want people to adopt these healthy lifestyles. Because we know it's your daily choices over time, not any particular day or week of our choices, but really what we do over the years. And that's often what people forget."

However, he said, it is never too late to adopt healthy lifestyle approaches even if one has cancer or is older. "They still may reduce the severity of the disease if you already have cancer. They may help you in terms of your response to treatment. Because if you're overall healthy to begin with, you're going to respond better to chemotherapy agents. So, it's never too late to make healthy changes."

In his book, Whyte talks about exercise, and that many people don't exercise. 

"But when we exercise, do we ever regret it? Do we think I wish I didn't go for a ride? Wow, I wish I didn't go swimming? We feel great afterward. And it's the same thing as adopting healthy choices at any age. You will feel better," Whyte said.

The same holds true for smokers. They don't want to give it up because they get some benefits. Whyte said, "But you know when they quit smoking, no one ever says, 'Oh, I wish I didn't quit.'"

It comes down to the immediate versus the long-term reward, regardless of lifestyle choice, whether exercise, smoking, drinking, food, weight loss, etc. Whyte said he tells his patients who are overweight that if they lose just half a pound a month or even a pound a month, in four years, they could be 40 to 50 pounds less than most of their friends who will be twenty pounds more. “If you eat that cake, you might feel good while you're eating it, but 30 minutes later, you don't. ... It's that long-term strategy."

Whyte said that he has never seen anyone that has adopted healthy eating say, "I don't feel good. They always say I feel so much better. I have more energy … Let's be honest; they don't say that in the first month, they don't, I know. It takes time. But that's where we need to be in it for the long haul."

Turning his attention to telemedicine, the practice of a physician using technology to deliver care to a patient at a distance versus in-person visits, Whyte said virtual connections would continue to serve a purpose in the healthcare system. But people need to come back into the office for recommended cancer screening tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms, and others [prostate, cervical, skin, lung] to find cancer early.

Whyte said that there are estimates they will see "at least 10,000 new cases of cancer that are going to be advanced because people in the United States didn't come in" to see their physicians during COVID.

"Take Control of Your Cancer Risk," John Whyte, MD, Chief Medical Officer of WebMD [2021], is available on Amazon.

According to WebMD, Whyte formerly worked at the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, serving as the director of professional affairs and stakeholder engagement. He spent nearly a decade at Discovery Channel, serving as chief medical expert and vice president of health and medical education. Whyte completed an internal medicine residency at Duke University Medical Center and earned a Master of Public Health in health policy and management at Harvard University School of Public Health. Before arriving in Washington, Whyte was a health services research fellow at Stanford and an attending physician in medicine. He has written extensively in the medical and lay press.

Reprinted from October, 2021, Great Falls Connection, after publication of "Take Control of Your Cancer Risk: A WebMD Essential Guide."