LIKE SOLDIERS in a well-run army, the body's cells are programmed to behave in a structured, orderly manner to perform specific tasks to ensure health and well-being. Sometimes a cell starts acting abnormally, breaking the conventional code of conduct, disregarding the rules, and serious diseases like cancer can develop.
What is cancer?
The word cancer comes from the Greek word for crab. Physicians of old noticed how in this disease, abnormal cells spread through the body in all directions seeming to crawl like a crab invading and damaging the patient's organs and tissues.
Cancer is a disease of our cells and can develop from the cells in any organ or system in the body. More than 100 different types of cancer are known to modern medicine. It starts with one cell becoming abnormal. It then multiplies to produce more abnormal cells that over time invade and damage normal tissues and organs. Only then do symptoms manifest themselves, and this may take many years to happen. For example, by the time the lump from breast cancer is large enough to be felt, it would have been quietly developing over 10 or more years.
Medical tests like mammograms would only have discovered the lump one to two years earlier, and by that time, the cancer is no longer confined to the breast. Instead of just looking out for the symptoms of cancer, we are better served if we address the causes of cancer. The ultimate solution to any problem is to determine the underlying causes and correct them.
What causes cancer?
Cancer cells act crazy! For one thing, unlike normal cells, they multiply indefinitely, acting as if they are immortal and cannot die. But their behaviour is suicidal as they end up killing themselves by destroying the very body they inhabit.
Why? The behaviour of a cell is governed by the genetic material (DNA) that resides in the nucleus of that cell. Damaged DNA sends out abnormal instructions to the cells causing them to act insanely and cancer results. Here are some of the common causes of cancer that science has identified.
Poor nutrition: What you eat has everything to do with your cancer risk. My article last week highlighted how vitamins, minerals, and herbs called antioxidants protect the cells from damage. A diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables (antioxidant rich), and fibre lowers your cancer risk while eating foods high in animal fats and low in fibre will increase your chances of getting cancer. This applies to many common cancers including colon, breast, prostate, and lung cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that for cancer protection we eat over seven servings of fruit and vegetables daily. In addition, regular use of the antioxidant supplements I listed last week will enhance cancer protection.
Immune incompetence: Although abnormal cancerous cells form in our body regularly, we also have our own anti-cancer security system called the immune system, which detects and destroys these abnormal cells. When cancer cells are allowed to proliferate, this indicates that the immune system is malfunctioning. There are many natural ways to enhance immune function. This is critical for our health in general as well as cancer protection in particular.
Infection and inflammation: The experts have clearly identified chronic inflammation and infections, particularly viral infections, as definite causes of cancer. Common examples are the associations between the Human Papilloma Virus and cervical cancer and the hepatitis virus, a liver cancer. Inflammation in the stomach and colon can set the stage for cancers there while chronic gum and tooth infections may also heighten your cancer risk.
Hormones: Hormones are powerful chemical messengers that influence the behaviour of all cells, especially the cells of our reproductive organs. Hormonal imbalance is a major factor in causing cancers of the breast, prostate, uterus, and testicles. This is related not only to changes in lifecycles and lifestyles, but also to thousands of chemicals in the modern environment that have hormonal activity. The hormone oestrogen and chemicals called xenoestrogens are major culprits.
Chemical pollution and radiation: In addition to the hormonal disrupters mentioned above, there are many other sources of chemical and electromagnetic pollution in our homes and work places. These invisible, subtle, ever-present agents of cancer play multiple roles in the creation of malignancy. Everyday objects like cellphones, plastic bottles, or TV and computer screens may all add to a toxic burden that compromises our capacity to avoid cancer.
Heredity: Our scientists have unravelled the human genetic code, and they are now working hard to identify genes that we can blame for cancer. This will allow for the development of new and expensive gene therapies. However, it is estimated that less than 20 per cent of our illnesses can be blamed on genes, and over 80 per cent are related to environment and lifestyle.
The fact that you are born with a gene, say, for breast cancer, does not mean that you will get breast cancer. It indicates that your risk is increased and that you should be particularly vigilant about your lifestyle practices. Genes exist and can be switched on (activated) or remain silent (inactive) by the factors mentioned above. You are not a helpless victim of even your genes.
Mental attitude and stress: As human beings, we are not just a body, but an integration of body, mind, and spirit. Just using those three different words encourages a division in our thinking that interferes with a truly holistic approach. I have coined a term "menscorp" to try to avoid this split.
Dealing with the body-mind, the menscorp is critical in addressing the cancer issue.
The research shows that one's mental state has a profound effect on delicate matters like immune function and hormonal balance, all of which influence cancer risk. Chronic anxiety, depression, negative thinking, emotional trauma can all tip the scale and initiate cancer. On the other hand, optimism, joy, faith, prayer, and gratitude reap powerful benefits for health and wellness. Your mental and spiritual attitudes are important instruments in your anti-cancer toolbox.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.