Peggy Lipton and Colon Cancer

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Peggy Lipton was an American television star, actress, model, and singer who played one of three undercover cops on the popular ABC series, The Mod Squad, from 1968 to 1973. She was nominated for four Emmy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards, and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama in 1971.

In 2004, at age 58, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died of that disease 15 years later in 2019.

Peggy Lipton in 1969.

Early Life and Television Career
Lipton was born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in New York City, to parents who were children of Eastern European refugees. According to her autobiography, Breathing Out, she was abused sexually by an uncle and became a withdrawn child who stuttered and sought solace in meditation and yoga. At 15, she became a Ford Agency model and began to take acting lessons.

Her family moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and at age 18, she was signed to a contract with Universal Pictures. She appeared on various television sitcoms and drama series, and at 22, she became a national TV celebrity as Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad. The show dealt with the social effects of the Viet Nam War and covered many sensitive topics such as the Vietnam War, domestic violence, drugs and abortion. After she left The Mod Squad, she appeared only in part-time television shows until she was 40 years old. She then returned to acting, with recurring roles in several TV shows and favorable attention for her work as Norma Jennings in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

Personal Life
In her memoir, Lipton wrote that in her earlier years she used drugs and had relationships with men who were married, alcoholic, abusive, or otherwise unsuitable. At age 28, she married musician and producer Quincy Jones and stopped acting for 15 years to concentrate on raising their two daughters, Kidada and Rashida, who both became actresses. Lipton and Jones divorced in 1990.

Colon Cancer Diagnosis
In 2004, a routine colonoscopy showed that she had stage-three colorectal cancer that had spread to the inner muscles of her colon. She was treated with surgery and chemotherapy and spent her recovery time writing her autobiography Breathing Out. She continued to work in films and television until 2017, and in she died of colon cancer in 2019. More than 1.3 million North Americans have colorectal cancer, a disease associated with lifestyle factors that encourage cancer-causing bacteria to thrive in your colon (Science, Feb 2, 2018:359(6375):592-597). Lifestyle factors that can cause inflammation include an unhealthful diet, lack of exercise, overweight, smoking, and alcohol (Gastroenterology, December 2018;155(6):1805–1815). When people who have been diagnosed with colon cancer that has already spread to other parts of their bodies changed to a healthier diet and an exercise program, they had a 42 percent lower risk of dying over the next seven years compared to those who did not change their lifestyles (JAMA Oncol, April 12, 2018).

How Lifestyle Factors can Cause Colon Cancer
Your colon has more than 100 trillion bacteria in it, and certain bad bacteria increase colon cancer risk, while other good bacteria help to decrease risk. What you eat and other lifestyle factors determine which types of bacteria grow in your colon. High concentrations of a family of bacteria called Fusobacterium were found in most colon cancer tissues removed from more than 1000 people during cancer surgery (J of Biosciences and Medicines, 2018;6:31-69). Another study of almost 140,000 people showed that the typical Western diet, high in sugar and meat, is strongly associated with colon cancers in people whose colons harbor Fusobacterium nucleatum (JAMA Oncol, published online January 26, 2017). Furthermore, after just two weeks on a diet restricting red meat and adding lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and seeds, African-Americans had a significant reduction in specific colon bacteria and other risk factors for colon cancer (Nature Communications, April 28, 2015).

These bacteria appear to increase colon cancer risk by suppressing a person’s immunity that is supposed to kill cancer cells (World J Gastrointest Oncol, Mar 15, 2018;10(3):71–81). A diet rich in soluble fiber helps to reduce the growth of Fusobacterium in your colon (JAMA Oncol, 2017 Jul 1;3(7):921-927). Lack of fruits and vegetables increases colon cancer risk by the following mechanism: You cannot absorb soluble fiber and resistant starch from plants in your upper intestinal tract, so they pass to your colon where specific bacteria ferment them to generate short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that help you to avoid overweight and dampen down inflammation, which helps to protect you from colon and other cancers (Proc Nutr Soc, 2015;74:23–36). Overwhelming data show that a diet that helps to turn on and keep your immunity overactive (inflammation) increases risk for colon cancer (JAMA Oncology, Jan 18, 2018). See Colon Cancer Prevention and Treatment

Lessons from Peggy Lipton’s Battle with Colon Cancer
The same lifestyle factors that increase risk for colon cancer also increase risk for several other types of cancers, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, diabetes and dementia, so making the lifestyle changes recommended to reduce colon cancer risk will also help to protect you from other major diseases.
• Follow a plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans and other seeds
• Avoid or restrict mammal meat, processed meats, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks and fried foods
• Try to exercise every day
• Maintain a healthful weight
• Avoid smoking, alcohol and unnecessary drugs

At any age, you can reduce your risk for colon cancer and many other diseases by changing your lifestyle. Cancer survivors have been shown to live longer when they adopt a healthful lifestyle after their diagnosis and treatment, and many heart attack patients and diabetics can reverse much of the damage when they start to eat healthfully and get plenty of exercise.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com.