Part I of a series on cancer prevention
We don’t have good answers yet as to cancer prevention, what causes the disease, or which is the best treatment.
Earlier this year, I lost a dear friend to cancer. I closely followed his battle, his search for cures and his spiritual healing process. Reiki and meditation helped him stay calm and strong until the very end. But he lost the war and we lost him.
Cancer has directly or indirectly touched the lives of almost everybody that I know.
In fact, cancer is second to heart disease as the leading cause of death in America. However, it doesn’t affect each and every state equally. For example, there is a significantly lower cancer rate in Utah than in Washington State.
Statistics give us clear indications that cancer is related to lifestyle. However, the money for cancer research is usually spent on developing expensive and toxic treatments, not focused on prevention and lifestyle changes. And let’s make something clear: screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies, chest x-rays) are not prevention, and some could lead to false positives and other risks.
Screenings are simply tools for early detection of a condition that might already be there.
Cancer prevention, deprivation and place of residence
Interestingly enough, Collier County, where I live, stays below the national cancer incidence average and Florida is among the 10 states with the lowest annual cancer incidence rates. Explanations could lay among increased possibilities for leisure, exposure to the sun (Vitamin D is said to prevent cancer), decent traffic and lower levels of pollution.
Statistics also show that besides age and skin color, socioeconomic status is a factor associated with cancer morbidity and mortality.
Higher mortality is typical among more deprived groups and those living in urban areas. Blacks experience higher mortality from different cancer types than non-Hispanic whites. But race and ethnicity alone do not explain the gap. Instead, disparities in nutrition, obesity, physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, early cancer screenings and access to treatment have a specific weight in cancer occurrence.
Not much progress in cancer prevention
Although the American Cancer Society claims that progress in treatment against cancer has been made, the figures tell us that reversal in overall mortality rates has been minimal.
Reduced lung cancer rates observed among the male population correlate with reduced tobacco use rather than advancement in treatments.
Other reductions in cancer mortality are more likely due to earlier detection than better cancer treatments.
Where are the billions spent in treatment research?
Cancer is the result of many different factors
Cancer develops because of a permanent change in the DNA sequence of a gene. This is called a gene mutation.
There are germlines and acquired mutations. A germline, according to the medical dictionary, is genetic material in a cell lineage that is passed down through the gametes (reproductive cells) before it is modified by somatic recombination or maturation.
Only 5 to 10 percent of cancer is inherited. And even when the germlines are present—epigenetics tells us—genes do not express their potential unless there is a favorable environment.
Acquired mutations are those changes in the DNA of a cell occurring during a person’s life and they are not passed from parent to child.
Tobacco use, excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, certain viruses and cell damage related to aging cause these mutations.
There is significant evidence that exposure to certain chemicals, including food additives leads to cancer.
Cancer caused by acquired mutations is called sporadic cancer and is much more common than familial cancer.
From the time of Galenus (AD 129–c. 200/ c. 216), physicians always suspected that psychological factors predisposed people to suffer cancer. He wrote that, “melancholic women were more prone to cancer than those of sanguine temperament.”
In his paper “The Stress Factor: Exploring the Possibility of a Psychological Component to Cancer,” Dr. Bernard M. Edelstein quotes James Paget, the English surgeon and pathologist, who in 1853 wrote, “The cases are frequent in which deep anxiety, deferred hope, and disappointment are quickly followed by the growth or increase of cancer. That we can hardly doubt that mental depression is a weighty addition to the other influences that favor the development of the cancerous constitution.”
In the past four or five decades psychoneuroimmunology has enriched our understanding of the connection between emotional stress and immune response.
AIDS research has led to proof that the immune system is not only much more than a defense system that fights invaders but a system that is interconnected and interdependent on other systems of the body, particularly the endocrine and nervous systems. We now know that immune deficiencies could be induced by stress.
The immune system is vital to cancer control in the body. An intact immunity function will grant that macrophages will locate, identify, reeducate or destroy cancer cells.
More focus on the above factors could lead to cancer prevention and a more comprehensive approach to treatment, but this would be the subject of our next piece on cancer prevention next week.