Good News About Cancer

Let us look at what cancer actually is. Cancer involves the production of cells in the body. Every minute 10 million cells divide in our bodies. Complex internal control mechanisms usually ensure that every one of these cell divisions occurs in a precise way at just the right time.10 The process called cancer can begin when foreign substances in the external environment (chemicals, radiation, viruses, etc.) get into the body and somehow perturb these internal control mechanisms. It can also begin as a result of problems that originate with the body´s internal environment (hormonal imbalances, immune impairment, inherited mutations, etc.). Regardless of the combination of factors that start the process, the result is the same: a single cell begins to multiply in an unregulated manner. As this cell multiplies, it passes its characteristic of unregulated growth to its offspring. A cancerous tissue made up of many unregulated cells is the result.

One of the ways that environmental agents appear to induce cancer is by inflicting damage on the cells´ DNA. DNA contains explicit instructions for all cell activities and thus spells out exactly how each cell in our body should function. For example, the DNA tells our bodies what color to make our hair and whether we should have blue eyes or brown eyes. This same DNA controls the rate of division of cells. On certain critical areas of a cell´s DNA there are genes that can stimulate the growth of that cell and other genes that can suppress its growth. One way that cancer can occur is through damage to this DNA. If the damage causes activation of areas that stimulate growth and/or the inactivation of areas that would keep growth in check, the result can be uncontrolled growth of that cell and its offspring. This, as we have noted, signals the beginning of a cancerous growth. We refer to that altered cell as a cancer cell if its genetics are changed in such a way as to allow uncontrolled multiplication.

If the body detects abnormal cancerous cells at an early stage, those cells can be destroyed before they have a chance to significantly grow and multiply. In fact, many scientists believe that every day?in every person?some normal cells are converted into cancerous cells. Usually, the person´s immune system destroys these newly altered cells. Unfortunately, however, sometimes a new cancerous cell is not detected and it manages to divide and grow without check. These cells can then continue to silently grow out of control. Ultimately they can form a mass or "tumor." Commonly, cancer cells from larger tumors will get into the blood stream and/or lymph system and travel to other vital organs. All of these changes may occur long before the cancer is even diagnosed. Depending on the growth rate of the cancer, it may take 10 years or longer before signs or symptoms develop that ultimately prompt the medical evaluation that results in the diagnosis of cancer.

There are two basic strategies that will prevent most cancers from starting; even if cancer has already begun, they may help the body gain an upper hand. These strategies are simple:
1. Avoid factors that favor cancer development.
2. Take advantage of factors that help the body to ward off cancer.

These two strategies are usually effective because of one or both of the following reasons:
1. They help us avoid or minimize contact with cancer-causing substances.
2. They help us strengthen our body´s own immune system for fighting cancer.

Avoid Factors That Favor Cancer Development

Tobacco is the number one cancer culprit in the United States and in much of the world. Increased cancer death rates account for a large share of tobacco´s burden, and this burden is staggering. In the U.S. alone, approximately 170,000 lives are lost each year from cancer caused by smoking, which is one-third of all cancer deaths. (A conservative estimate of 400,000 Americans die from all diseases caused by smoking each year, at an annual medical expense of $50 billion.) Worldwide, the annual death toll from smoking has reached a mind-boggling 3 million people. This equates to one death every 10 seconds.

We have massive evidence demonstrating tobacco´s power to cause cancer. Over 4,000 different chemicals have been identified in tobacco smoke. A number of these chemicals has the ability to cause cancer all by themselves. There are specific carcinogens in tobacco that cause lung cancer, others that cause kidney and bladder cancer, some that cause cancer of the esophagus, and others that cause cancer of the pancreas. All told, a long list of cancers have been linked to exposure to tobacco products.

From population studies it is well established that drinking alcoholic beverages increases the risk of a variety of cancers. The list includes cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and rectum. Although the cancer association is primarily with heavy alcohol consumption, moderate alcohol use may also raise the risk of some of these cancers. Breast cancer is the classic example with the evidence suggesting that as little as three drinks per week increases a woman´s risk.

Why does alcohol increase cancer risk? One reason is that it exposes the body to toxic chemicals in several different ways that could cause or promote cancer. First, alcohol is a solvent, and when body tissues are exposed to it, it will allow toxic chemicals that happen to be present to penetrate those tissues. A person who smokes and drinks will have tissues in the mouth, esophagus, and larynx exposed to alcohol and chemicals in tobacco smoke at the same time. If these chemicals can cause or promote cancer growth, the stage is set for cancer to begin. This is one explanation for the dramatic rise in mouth and throat cancers when a person both smokes and drinks. Although smoking increases your risk of these cancers, if you both smoke and drink your risk is further multiplied. The two habits work together to increase risk beyond that of simply adding the risks of tobacco and smoking independently.

Second, there is concern that one of alcohol´s breakdown products, acetaldehyde, can actually potentiate the cancer-inducing effects of other chemicals. This has been particularly noted with rectal tissue. Third, alcohol increases the chances that more carcinogens will be produced from certain pre-carcinogenic chemicals to which we are exposed. Fourth, other chemicals found in alcoholic beverages may have roles in causing cancer. Whiskey, for instance, has certain hydrocarbons that are some of the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke and in smoked meat.

In many people´s minds, red meat epitomizes foods that are high in saturated fat. This association has not been lost on some in the meat and livestock industry; they have been making concerted efforts to decrease the saturated fat content of meat products. Even if they succeed, medical research indicates that there is more wrong with red meat than its saturated fat content. Regarding cancer risks, flesh foods in general?red meat, poultry, or even fish?have more strikes against them than merely their fat content. The same is true of dairy foods such as cheese, milk, and ice cream. Dairy foods are not derived from animal flesh, but they are animal products, and are listed with other items that increase cancer risk.

Coffee is another common source of carcinogens in the American diet. The experts still debate whether coffee presents a significant cancer risk, but there is no question that this popular beverage contains cancer-causing chemicals. Such chemicals include methylglyoxal, catechol, chlorogenic acid, and neochlorogenic acid.

In another study of prostate cancer, those who averaged 20 mg or more of theobromine (a caffeine relative that is especially known to be found in chocolate) per day, doubled their risk of prostate cancer. Those with intermediate consumption had an intermediate level of risk. It does not take much chocolate to provide those 20 mg of theobromine. Chocolate also contains the carcinogen alpha-methylbenzyl alcohol.

Agents That Act to Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Our bodies are continuously under attack from a variety of germs, toxins, and pollutants. We breathe air that contains dirt particles, smoke, fumes, carbon monoxide, and chemicals. We handle garbage in the normal process of life. We eat food full of bacteria and drink water with varying degrees of contamination from a host of wells and municipal water systems. Night and day, day after day, we encounter countless microbiologic enemies who want to dominate us for their own purposes. Simply put, there is no way to go through life completely avoiding all threats to our health. And there is no way to avoid each and every carcinogen. No matter how hard we try, we will on occasion breathe in the toxins from someone else´s cigarette smoke, or factory, or incinerator.

Because these dangers are all around us, many people throw up their hands and say, "Forget it. I will never be able to avoid every carcinogen, so why even try?" This defeatist attitude ignores two important facts. First, it is not an all-or-none phenomenon regarding the dangers of carcinogens. Exposure to a few carcinogens is not as harmful as exposure to many carcinogens. The more we avoid carcinogens, the greater the protection we will enjoy. Second, the "why try" argument ignores the fact that our immune systems can help us deal effectively with carcinogens. When we are exposed to a moderate level of carcinogens and our immune systems are in tip-top shape, we can destroy cancer cells before they have a chance to multiply to any significant extent?and before they have a chance to cause symptoms or even be detected on an x-ray or a blood test. This is, indeed, good news concerning the immune system.

It is widely known that vitamin A is required for the maintenance of normal mucous membranes and for normal vision. However, few realize that, as one nutrition text put it, "Vitamin A is essential, either directly or indirectly, for the proper functioning of most organs of the body." Indeed, vitamin A is important for reproductive function in both males and females, and it also appears to be critical for immune function.

Vitamin C is another cancer-protective food. Its main effects are also likely due to its role as an antioxidant, similar to vitamin A, thus decreasing exposure to toxic "free radicals." Vitamin C also tends to prevent the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines from nitrites in the diet.

Vitamin E appears to help protect against cancer for similar reasons that vitamin C does. It is an antioxidant and a free-radical scavenger. It also has a role in blocking the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines and nitrosamides from foods containing nitrite.

Another illustration of the power of plant foods to assist in cancer prevention and possibly even to combat the effects of aging was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They recently attempted to rate foods according to their measured natural antioxidant properties. Although they used only one group of free radicals (the peroxyls) in their testing, the University of California at Berkeley championed the research on the headlines of their March 1997 newsletter. The top ten fruit and vegetable sources of antioxidants from this USDA research are listed in figure.

For more informations see:
- Proof Positive by Neil Nedley, M.D.
- Raw Food Treatment of Cancer by Kristine Nolfi, M.D.
- Poison With A Capital C: A Case Against Coffee And Other Brown Drink by Agatha Thrash, M.D. and Calvin Thrash, M.D.