Focus on Wellness with Dr. David Debono


A Hematologist-Oncologist with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit

DrDavidDebonoDavid Debono, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist who specializes in Palliative Medicine at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, and associate professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine, believes that wellness can be part of our everyday lives. A focus on healthy eating habits, exercise, stress reduction and medical care by a wellness-focused physician are key components to a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Debono’s philosophy of healthy living is similar to Dr. Pat Schmidt’s, so it’s no coincidence that they both believe in sharing wellness- focused lifestyle recommendations with their patients.

Like Dr. Pat, Dr. Debono has worked extensively in the field of Palliative Care. He is the leader of the Supportive Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos, which concentrates on caring for patients with pain and uncontrolled symptoms, as well as caring for patients with social, spiritual and psychological needs. Their team includes a nurse practitioner, an outpatient social worker, an outpatient psychologist and psychiatrist, a dietician and a hospital chaplain.

“In my work with patients, it is important that they receive care in the setting of a multidisciplinary team,” said Dr. Debono. “Our team is focused on offering support for both patients and families as they work together during and after their cancer treatment.

“In prior generations, it was the ‘doctor knows best’ philosophy. Patients went to their doctor and the doctor told them what to do. Those days are over,” said Dr. Debono. “In my setting, and in Dr. Schmidt’s practice, patients are approached holistically; with attention given not only to physical health but spiritual, social and psychological health as well.”

At the Karmanos Cancer Institute, Dr. Debono’s daily interaction with patients requires input from the hospital physician, the inpatient oncology team, as well as the patient’s outpatient oncologist. This requires meticulous attention to communication between physicians and with other members of the multidisciplinary team. Dr. Debono added, “Maintaining open lines of communication are a significant part of our daily work.”

Following his undergraduate studies at Purdue University, Dr. Debono attended medical school at Indiana University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Prior to beginning medical school, his younger brother became ill with a blood/bone marrow disorder. His brother’s physicians were excellent role models and led to Dr. Debono’s interest in hematology and oncology.

“My experience with my brother, my experience in the research lab and my work during training led me to an interest in hematology-oncology,” related Dr. Debono.

Following medical training, Dr. Debono worked in a small community south of Chicago. During his experience there as a community hematologist-oncologist, he witnessed a lot of diseases that were often related to lifestyle choices or occupational hazards. He also developed an interest in hospice and palliative medicine at that time.

Following 12 years in Illinois, Dr. Debono continued his work in Palliative Medicine at Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit before coming to Karmanos Cancer Institute. During that time, Dr. Debono and Dr. Schmidt found they had a common interest in Palliative Care, as well as wellness strategies.

Regarding wellness and cancer prevention strategies, Dr. Debono notes that the number one preventative tactic is to avoid cigarette smoking and other tobacco products.

“There are direct correlations to smoking and lung cancer, cancer of the voice box and related structures, pancreas cancer and even a relationship with some cases of breast cancer,” said Dr. Debono. “Heavy alcohol use can place patients at risk for cancers of the esophagus and the liver. In addition, research shows that being above an ideal body weight can also increase one’s risk for cancer.”

Other protective measures include regular exercise, which has been shown to improve survival in some forms of cancer. A diet high in anti-oxidants including kale, broccoli, legumes (beans) and fruits like blueberries, blackberries and cranberries is also recommended. Avoiding heavily grilled meats and smoked meats has also been shown to help provide some protection from certain types of cancer.

“Research trials on diet and cancer risk are difficult to complete but there is a general consensus that avoiding tobacco products, participating in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and having a varied diet that includes fruits and vegetables with antioxidant properties, contribute to a healthy lifestyle and helps diminish cancer risk, “ notes Dr. Debono.

Like Dr. Pat, Dr. Debono is committed to encouraging his patients to participate in their own wellness.
“As a medical oncologist specialized in palliative medicine, I’m committed to providing the highest quality of care for my patients, including helping them be proactive about their health and wellness, to help improve overall quality of life so they can seize the day and live life to its fullest,” said Dr. Debono.