What is Cancer?
Can Cancer be prevented?
Many people do not realise that around 30% of all cancer cases in Western society
are caused by poor diet and lifestyle habits. Most people believe that cancer
will come when it comes and there is nothing we can do to help prevent it.
In many cases, this is true as there are a number of cancers that are caused
by genetic defects, however a large proportion are not caused by genetics and
can be prevented by very simple methods. So, what is cancer? How is it caused?
And what can be done to prevent it?
What is Cancer?
Cancer is an extremely complex condition that occurs in three stages called
Initiation, Development and Metastasis.
The Initiation stage principally involves damage to a cells DNA which results
in the production of mutant proteins. This then completely alters the functioning
inside the cell and causes the cell to differentiate from its surroundings and
begin to multiply at a rate that cannot be controlled. A normal healthy cell
is dependant on the continuous production of protein molecules for its structure,
its metabolism and its function. These proteins are produced by a process called
protein synthesis in which the DNA strand unwinds and a molecule called RNA
is produced with a structure that is dependant on the area of DNA that is exposed.
Specific amino acids then attach to the RNA and are glued together in a long
string of amino acids that becomes a protein. These proteins which could either
be an enzyme, a hormone or be incorporated into the structure, are completely
specific to the functioning of that cell. Therefore if these proteins were to
change, (it only takes the addition, or deletion, of one amino acid to a protein
structure to completely change its function) the protein, and therefore the
cell, will start to perform differently from the cells around it.
It is at this stage that cancer can be diagnosed due to the appearance of the
cell itself. Most people are aware that in astrology, the star sign Cancer is
represented by a Crab. This is because the word cancer is Latin for the word
crab and the star sign was given this name because the constellation which
looks like a crab (after researching this constellation it was clear that this
particular arrangement of stars had absolutely no resemblance to any aquatic
life, let alone a crab!) was predominant in the sky at that time. This is the
reason why cancer is called cancer. If a cancerous cell was examined through
a microscope, it would show finger-like projections coming from the body of
the cell and therefore was deemed to look like a crab.
If this cell is not killed by the immune system, it will be allowed to divide
and this leads to the Development stage of cancer. Normal cells possess a quality
known as contact inhibition, where they will stop dividing once in contact with
cells of a different tissue. This prevents our organs from enlarging out of
control. However, a cancerous cell loses contact inhibition and is therefore
able to continue dividing within the organ it is enclosed in until it engulfs
and destroys the organ itself. As some people may have seen, there seems to
be no limit to the size a tumour can reach if it is allowed to grow.
If a tumour is allowed to grow near a major vein or artery, the third and most
deadly stage of cancer can result. Metastasis occurs when cells of a tumour
break away and enter the blood stream. This allows the cells to travel to other
parts of the body and infect other organs and cause what is known as secondary
cancer. If a cancer has been allowed to reach this stage then the likely-hood
of recovery is severely reduced and is almost always fatal.
Can Cancer be prevented?
With this in mind, can cancer be prevented? In many cases the answer to this
question is, yes! To explain this fully, it will be beneficial to re-visit the
different stages of cancer. The Initiation stage, as mentioned above, occurs
from damage to DNA that results in abnormal protein production and abnormal
cell function. However, it is the damage to DNA that initiates this cascade.
Therefore, many nutritional therapies for preventing cancer are designed around
the protection of the DNA strand. DNA is mostly damaged by oxidants, which
are highly reactive molecules that move around our bodies bumping into cell
structures and taking particles called electrons. When they take these electrons
they become stable and harmless but leave a damaged molecule in their wake.
It is at this stage that dietary antioxidants are vital. These specialised nutrients
act as kamikaze compounds that basically commit suicide for the good of the
cell. Instead of the oxidants attacking the DNA, they attack the antioxidant
nutrients. This then triggers an alternative, but less reactive cascade, which
is why a mixture of different antioxidants is vital. The body has its own oxidant
defence mechanism from a series of antioxidant enzymes, however considering
that each and every cell (and it is believed that the human body contains between
50 and 100 trillion cells for those of you taking notes) is attacked by oxidants
around 10,000 times a day as a by product of our metabolism, our own defence
is already under extreme pressure. When our defences are overloaded, as is common
in todays lifestyle, it is vital that sufficient dietary antioxidants are consumed.
All brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants as they
contain nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene,
selenium and zinc, along with bioflavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol.
All of these nutrients are also available in supplement form and are useful
if fresh fruits and vegetables are lacking from the diet. Many herbal supplements
are also rich in antioxidants and include Green Tea and Cats Claw.
If DNA is attacked and allowed to produce mutant proteins, the Development
stage occurs. However, even if the disease progresses to this stage, the body
is still able fight it by using the immune system. The human immune system has
evolved in such a way that it can distinguish between foreign bodies and our
own tissue. The difference can be described as non-self and self respectively.
Therefore, anything that enters the body, or in this case grows within the body,
that our immune system does not recognise as self, will be attacked and in
most cases, destroyed. It is thought that our immune system reacts to foreign,
non-self bodies with the same ferocity as hungry Piranha fish to food.
When a cancer cell develops it is treated as non-self as it has become different
from the surrounding cells within the organ and therefore is not recognised.
A healthy immune system would be able to destroy this cell before it begins
to divide uncontrollably. In this respect it is important that our immune system
is functioning efficiently and there are a number of nutrients and phytonutrients
which have been shown to boost immune activity.
The common nutrients vitamin C and zinc have been the subjects of numerous
scientific studies regarding their efficacy for boosting the immune system.
One such study stated that inadequate consumption of vitamin C and zinc, along
with essential fatty acids, resulted in the impaired function of one of the
main types of immune cells called T-Lymphocytes. Vitamin C is abundant in most
fruits and vegetables with blackcurrants and strawberries being amongst the
richest of sources. Zinc is found in meat such as pork and is also plentiful
in nuts, oysters and pumpkin seeds,
Herbs such as Echinacea, Goldenseal and Garlic have also been associated with
increased immune function and all are available in supplement form.
Most people are aware that there is currently no cure for cancer but there
is plenty that can be done to help prevent it.
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