A cell is considered abnormal when damaged DNA is not repaired. DNA damage occurs when normal cells do not reproduce well or when something in the environment or something linked to unhealthy habits (e.g., smoking) causes the abnormal reproduction. Although the picture of cancer may seem clear it is hard to define the causes. Simply put, cancer is the proliferation of damaged malfunctioning cells. Cell become increasingly susceptible to abnormal reproduction when the body’s pH levels are low—that is, when the body is in a low-oxygen state (below pH of 6.5 - 7.0). Cancer cells are more likely to thrive due to lactic acid production and elevated CO2. To understand the life of a cell it essential to know the environment within which it lives not only to study it in isolation, that is why ph levels are critical to body function and related to how we develop malfunctions and disease.
There are more than 100 types of cancers and millions of people today are living with cancer or have had cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Worldwide, 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2008 (13 percent of all deaths worldwide), with close to 70 percent of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. The five most common types of cancer that kill men are (in order of frequency) lung, stomach, liver colorectal and oesophagus; the five most common that kill women are breast, lung, stomach, colorectal and cervical.
In developed countries, the probability of being diagnosed with cancer is more than twice as high as in developing countries. But the probability of survival or prolonged life is greater— in developed countries, close to 50 percent of cancer patients die of the disease compared to developing countries, where 80 percent of cancer victims already have late-stage incurable tumors when diagnosed. As stated by World Health Organization, the main reasons for the greater cancer burden of affluent societies are the earlier onset of the tobacco epidemic, the earlier exposure to occupational carcinogens, and the Western nutrition and lifestyle with its concomitant stress. One’s diet, in particular, will affect the health of cell reproduction since the foods one eats can alter pH levels significantly. Stress can also affect pH and hormonal levels. For instance, foods such as asparagus, garlic and celery have higher potential of alkalinity, meaning they are less acidic, while foods like beef, cream and butter have higher acidity and are thus more likely to reduce pH levels in the body. The typical Western diet is highly acid producing.
While cancer growth remains prevalent, the rates of death in the U.S. from all cancers continued to decline between 2003 and 2007 (the steady decline began in the early 1990s). The 2003-2007 reporting period is the most recent available, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published May 2011 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
According to the Report, overall cancer incidence rates declined about 1 percent a year and overall death rates fell close to 2 percent a year between 2003 and 2007. Black men and women had the highest death rates overall, but they also had the largest declines in death rates from 1998 through 2007. For new cancers, black men had the highest overall incidence rates and white women had the highest incidence rates among women. Age also contributed to one’s risk of developing cancer—the older one becomes, particularly after 65 years of age, the greater the chances of developing cancer.
So far, from a scientific statistical point of view age and ethnicity are only two characteristics that help predict one’s risk for developing cancer. There are various other predictors and causes, the strongest being linked to the environment and lifestyle.
Finding causes for a disease is a complicated matter because depending on what approach you follow (systemic or analytic) you come up with different conclusions. Cancer is complex in the sense that it appears in many different forms and there a many different potential causes that initiate it. Most biomedicine (an analytic approach) maintain that malfunctioning DNA, which controls the cell, is what causes cancer. But some also acknowledge that virus and fungal infections can also cause cancer. Understanding why or how individuals develop cancer is challenging, especially when the diagnosis is not directly tied to an obvious factor, such as genetics or smoking tobacco. For decades, scientists and medical researchers have tried pinpointing frequent causes of cancer, with some of the most common being infections, genetics and lifestyle and environmental factors. The principle approach of biomedicine is to find the causes, which creates the disease, but with cancer we are finding that there are many potential causes all resulting in a variation of uncontrolled cellular growth. We will look at how agents such as food, toxins and lifestyle choices can individually and collectively affect/alter the body’s environment and contribute to one’s risk of developing cancer.
Immune system dysfunction is central to many diseases.
Despite much research devoted to understanding cancer and its causes, the role of chronic infections is frequently overlooked. According to World Health Organization, up to 23 percent of malignancies, or a cancerous growth, in developing countries are caused by infectious agents, such as hepatitis B and C viruses (cause liver cancer), human papilloma viruses (HPV; cause cervical and ano-genital cancers), and Helicobacter pylori (causes stomach cancer). In developed countries, on the other hand, chronic infections cause only 8 percent of cancers.
Up to the 1980s, common cancers were believed to be primarily a result of environmental and lifestyle factors, such as tobacco and alcohol consumption and radiation and chemical exposure. But as population-based studies in the 1980s revealed more about causes of cancer, there was an increased emphasis on the role of genetics and of heredity among cancers.
Hereditary cancer develops from gene mutation(s) passed from a parent to a child. Inheriting a gene mutation does not always mean a person will develop cancer; it simply increases his/her risk factor. There need to be something that triggers the potential into actuality. The most common hereditary cancers are breast, ovarian, prostate and colorectal (hereditary breast and ovarian cancers are often linked since they develop from the same mutated genes).
Even though genetics are brought to consumers’ attention as a great risk factor for developing certain cancers, sporadic cancer—cancers that occur by chance in individuals with no known genetic risk factors and no significant family history—are much more common. In fact, nearly 60 percent of cancers are sporadic and only 5 to 10 percent of breast and colon cancer cases are caused by genetics/heredity. Thus, while many might think risk of cancer is always linked to family history, environmental and lifestyle factors play a much greater role.
The most important component highlighted in cancer prevention efforts today is lifestyle, specifically what people willingly put into their bodies in the form of food and toxins. According to the World Health Organization, countless studies show that positive behavioral changes in tobacco, alcohol and diet (that is, reducing the amount of alcohol and tobacco consumed and adopting a healthier diet) can prevent far more cancers than the elimination of environmental toxins such as industrial pollution, car exhaust and dioxins.
One recent, large study supports the above claims that behavioral changes and lifestyle can contribute to one’s likelihood of developing cancer. This study, which analyzed nearly 300,000 cases of cancers diagnosed in 2010 in the United Kingdom, attributed one’s likelihood of developing cancer to one’s exposure of 14 common lifestyle risk factors (tobacco, alcohol, bodyweight, physical exercise, occupation, infections, radiation (ionizing and solar), reproductive history (breast feeding), post-menopausal hormone use, and intake of certain foods (fruits and vegetables, meat, fiber and salt)). The researchers studied 18 different cancers—including breast, stomach, liver, colon, ovary, bladder and lung—and one’s likelihood of getting a cancer based on levels of exposure to the risk factors.
This comprehensive study found that overall, the 14 exposures were responsible for 42 percent of cancers in the U.K. (134,000 cases). Tobacco, diet, bodyweight and alcohol together accounted for 34 percent of the cancers. Smoking tobacco was the most important, as it was responsible for nearly 20 percent of new cancers, followed by an unhealthy diet, responsible for10 percent of diagnoses. In men, low intake of fruits and vegetables, high alcohol consumption and occupational exposures were high risks; in women, overweight/obesity and infections were high risks. The researchers conclude that while most cancers are attributable to sub-optimal exposure of many risk factors, certain factors (e.g., alcohol and tobacco) can act as carcinogens when combined, increasing one’s risk of getting cancer. Drastic changes in lifestyle and prevention practices must take place to see a significant decrease in cancer in a few decades.
There is no evading the fact that lifestyle factors, specifically tobacco use and dietary habits, can act as contributors to cancer development. Thus, they also are factors that are highlighted in prevention efforts. Tobacco certainly is a key factor, since it is the single largest preventable cause of cancer in the world. In the United States alone, over 45 million adults are cigarette smokers. This is a daunting number when data show that cigarette smoking eventually kills nearly half of those who smoke. And while tobacco use was found to be responsible for nearly 20 percent of new cancers in the U.K., it accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. (80 percent of those deaths are from lung cancer). To begin reducing the number of cancer diagnoses worldwide, there is a need to reduce tobacco use and improve people’s dietary habits.
Studies indicate that frequent consumption of fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing cancers of the pharynx, larynx, lung, oesophagus, stomach, colon and cervix. Most importantly these kinds of foods contribute to an internal environment with a more balanced pH. In fact, a daily consumption of a little over one pound of fruits and vegetables can decrease digestive tract cancers by up to 25 percent. This type of diet unfortunately is not common in advanced, Western nations, which is characterized by a highly caloric diet rich in fat, in refined carbohydrates and in animal protein. Combined with low physical activity, this lifestyle has led to much energy imbalance among Western populations.
In Western societies—including European nations, the United States, Canada and Australia—the most //info.cancerresearchuk.org/prod_consump/groups/cr_common/@nre/@sta/documents/generalcontent/cr_043265.pdf">prevalent cancers in 2008 were lung cancer (11-15 percent of all cancer cases), prostate cancer (11-17 percent), breast cancer (13-15 percent) and colorectum cancer (11-14 percent). While breast cancer was prevalent in all societies as a top cancer, with the exception of Eastern Asia, colorectum cancer was either missing as a top cancer in a number of non-Western societies, or it was less prevalent (8-10 percent) than in traditionally Western societies. This could be linked to differences in diet and the health conditions (e.g., obesity) one can develop from poor eating habits. Obesity in particular is a chronic energy imbalance and a strong predictor of an increased cancer risk for carcinomas of the uterine endometrium, kidney and gall bladder. Thus, maintaining a healthy weight, eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, and increasing consumption of nutritious, low-acidic foods is important to lowering one’s risk of developing cancer.
A note on prevention, early detection
Prevention is of course the ideal, but the second most effective lifestyle-related prevention effort is early detection—that is, catching cancer cells in their early stages of development through screenings and similar tests. A person’s choice to actively engage in health monitoring through regular check-ups and screenings (after a certain age or as recommended by physicians) most certainly is a lifestyle factor that could mean life or death for many. Strong evidence exists to show that recent declines in cancer mortality in several countries are due to early detection. Such detection improvements include advances in imaging (e.g., mammography, magnetic resonance (MR) and computed tomography (CT) imaging), greater overall disease awareness, and better educational programs on typical early symptoms.
For instance, cytology and mammography have so far been highly successful prevention approaches to reducing mortality of cervical cancer and breast cancer. In fact, a recent analysis by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group concluded that, under trial conditions, mammography screening may reduce breast cancer mortality by 25-30 percent. Even though national recommendations continue to change with regard to the types and frequency of screenings individuals should get, it is clear that engaging in routine check-ups and in early detection efforts is important.
In addition to screenings, vaccinations also can be important to preventing certain cancers. HBV vaccinations, for instance, have been shown to prevent liver cancer in high-incidence countries, and it is likely that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer soon will become widely available worldwide. In developed countries with an excellent public health infrastructure and high compliance among women, early detection of cervical cancer, via PAP smear exams, has led to great reductions of mortality. In other regions of the world, however, incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer remain high. In 2003, for instance, close to 80 percent of all cervical cancer deaths occurred in developing countries. More needs to be done to increase the use and accessibility of vaccines for cancer prevention.
Once a person has been diagnosed with cancer, the next step typically is seeking treatment. Biomedicine specializes in treating disease which means eliminating the symptoms—that is the yardstick or gauge of progress. For decades, cancer treatments have improved significantly and today are saving lives and extending survival for people with various types of cancers. While the most common treatment options are drug-based therapies (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation), many non-chemical approaches have emerged over the years, giving patients more natural options to either complement or replace drug-based therapies.
One major factor that helps to determine the type of treatment a cancer patient should receive is the cancer’s stage of development. The stage usually is expressed as numbers (e.g., I, II, III, or IV) or by terms such as “localized” and “regional.” The lower the number or more localized the cancer, the better a person’s chances of benefiting from biomedical treatment. In fact, more than 30 percent of cancers worldwide could be cured if detected early and treated adequately. Detecting cancer in its localized stage means it can be treated or removed while the cancer is still small and has not yet spread to other parts of the body. For advanced cancers diagnosed in “late” stages, physicians often treat patients using aggressive drug-based therapies.
For Biomedicine, drug-based therapies are the principle means of treatment. The focus of drug treatment is typically specific and effects are usually toxic. Chemotherapy is a treatment involving chemical agents to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, its affect the body as a whole. It usually eliminates cancer cells at various sites throughout the body, meaning it is a systemic treatment, and it can be administered through intravenous (IV) infusion, an injection or a pill. Although chemotherapy sometimes is used as the only cancer treatment a patient receives, it usually is combined with surgery, radiation, or biological therapy. A combination of aggressive drugs, chemotherapy frequently succeeds at slowing or killing cancer cells. However, its success comes with a great cost: the drugs also kill healthy cells, causing short- and long-term side effects in patients, including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of hair, and even death.
Another drug-based therapy similar to chemotherapy is radiation therapy, or radiotherapy. Radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It also simultaneously kills healthy cells near the area(s) being treated. Radiotherapy can come from a machine outside the body or from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells. Systemic radiotherapy uses a radioactive substance that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Similar to chemotherapy, radiotherapy causes short- and long-term side effects such as fatigue, skin changes/problems, hair loss, and mouth problems.
In addition to multiple harmful side effects, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are very expensive treatments. For instance, the cost of eight weeks of chemotherapy can range from $100 to $30,000, depending on the type of drug and frequency/duration of treatment. And the cost of treatments continues to rise. According to Cancer Bulletin of the National Cancer Institute, the average cost of initial cancer therapy per patient increased by $4,000-$7,000 between 1991 and 2002. Fear of such costs has caused many to delay or refuse cancer treatment. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of cancer patients younger than 65 years of age delay or refuse treatment due to the high associated cost.
Natural, Holistic Approaches to Treatment
Modern, drug-based remedies are very capable at suppressing cancer growth and occasionally completely eliminating cancer in individuals. Thus, these remedies have become vessels of hope for many, however they come at great cost to the body and monetarily. Because of how the health care system is set up in Western countries, natural approaches perceived as less effective than the chemical and pharmaceutical options.
Recently, however, non-drug-based therapies have started to gain recognition as valuable complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), with studies analyzing primarily their ability to ease symptoms caused by cancer treatment. In fact, a 2011 report by Harvard Medical School suggested that health care providers are increasingly telling patients to look to non-drug-based therapies to improve their health. The report found that 38 percent of Americans in 2007 used CAM—such as touch therapies, acupuncture and mind-body approaches—and that the rates of CAM use have increased since 2002, with mind-body therapies (i.e., yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep-breathing exercises, etc) making up 75 percent of the increase.
CAM use has been suggested to reduce stress and relieve pain, nausea, dry mouth and possibly hot flashes associated by drug-based cancer treatments. Numerous hospitals around the county now offer a slew of mindfulness-based therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, due to patient demand and possible for economic reasons. However, these therapies in hospitals are used as complementary to drug-based therapies, not as alternatives—this likely is due to insufficient research that supports the therapies’ ability to slow or kill cancer growth independently. The mainstream medicine, which dominates health care in Western countries, still regard these other therapies as secondary.
An ancient Eastern medical approach that has increased tremendously in popularity is Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, a technique that applies needles, heat, pressure, and to one or more places on the skin known as acupuncture points, and herbal-botanical formulas taken orally based on a specific diagnostic process. From a scientific perspective, acupuncture has been said to work by causing physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. While acupuncture is not new—it has been used in the U.S. for nearly 200 years already and has been used in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years as part of traditional Chinese medicine—it is now more commonly used to help control symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, and to help a person’s immune system improve its functions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, more than 3 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 national survey, acupuncture use among adults increased by approximately 1 million people.While the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has funded extensive research to better understand the science of acupuncture, more research for this approach is needed.
In addition to approaches like Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, Ayurveda, food and nutrition as a form of therapy has certainly gained momentum and attention. Many natural health and medical practitioner consider diet and nutrition the most effective means for preventing and treating disease and illness. As previously mentioned in this article, studies have linked frequent intake of fruits, vegetables, and low-acidic foods to decreased risk of cancer development because of these foods’ positive effects on one’s cells and health. While no single food or food component can by itself protect against cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research claims that a diet filled with a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans helps lower risk for many cancers. The synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet offers the strongest cancer protection and facilitates the body’s own ability to heal itself.
The concept of a balanced diet is important since consuming an excess of certain nutrients can have negative cancer-related outcomes. Nutrition experts explain that getting an excess of nutrients from pills, for instance, may do harm as well for cancer patients. That is why it is important to go to a professional who is trained in nutrition and the use of herbal-botanical therapy. For example, when it comes to vitamin E, an excess can prolong bleeding time, leading to cancellations or delays of cancer surgeries, and it can actually raise one’s risk of developing certain cancers. Also, vitamin C, in large doses, can make cancer cells resistant to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy—that is, it can prevent the drug-based therapies from killing cancers cells. Numerous organizations have dedicated much time and resources to studying cancer-fighting foods, some of which include berries, dark leafy greens, beans, garlic and green tea. More research, however, needs to be conducted on the benefits of herbal and dietary supplements and nutrients, especially as it relates to cancer treatment, not prevention.
In addition to nutrients, compounds have emerged as a topic of interest for researchers studying ways to eliminate cancer growth without using toxins. In 2007, researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada found that the non-toxic compound Sodium Dichloroacetate (DCA) can significantly shrink cancer tumors in the lung, breast and brain while having little to no negative side effects on the host (rats). In other words, DCA kills cancer cells only, leaving healthy, normal cells unaffected. In a lab study, the team implanted human lung tumors in live rats, which then drank a DCA solution. Three weeks later, the researchers found that the tumor had decreased by up to 70 percent. They concluded that the DCA solution restored the cancerous cells’ energy production, killing the cancer and leaving healthy cells untouched.
Two years later, more research on the compound was conducted by the same researchers, this time using humans. It was a clinical trial of five patients with aggressive brain cancers. The results: DCA extended the lives of four patients, while one died. The findings show that DCA worked as predicted—it arrests the growth of cancer cells by switching them back to normal energy production—though its beneficial effects took a few months to kick in. Despite the small trial, it would be extremely difficult to learn how DCA works until tested in a placebo-controlled trial. As of today, no further trails for DCA and cancer have been conducted, although DCA has previously been tested in humans on a small scale for rare metabolic diseases.
As one can see, cancer is a complex disease with various causes and multiple treatment options. Depending on the stage of diagnosis, treatment options may vary. But one thing is certain—keeping the healthy, normal cells alive during the treatment process is imperative to prolonging life and increasing one’s quality of life as a cancer patient. Thus, whether engaged alone or as a complement, non-toxic, holistic medicines have become more important to prevention and treatment. More research must be conducted on this front, but the interest, from both patients and health care practitioners, is increasing at dramatically partly due to economic reasons and thanks both to the failure of mainstream biomedicine and the increase information available from the Internet. Various hospitals and medical centers already offer a slew of naturalistic, holistic practices for cancer patients undergoing treatment.
The next step is discovering and putting to use (widely) non-toxic treatments that can eliminate cancer cells from the body without help from drug-based therapies.
© 2016 Keyvan Golestaneh