What is cancer?
Cancer is a complicated illness. There are many different types of cancer and prognosis can vary enormously between individuals. We all know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and sadly, it’s becoming more common.
There is a natural process for cell replication – when cells age and die by undergoing natural apoptosis or programmed cell death. Cancer, simply put, is when cell cycle regulation goes wrong and normal cell growth and behaviour is lost, causing uncontrolled growth and loss of normal cell differentiation. This happens every day, but our immune system is the reason why the body is able to recognize these rogue cells so they are killed off.
Cancer cells acquire the ability to multiply and spread without usual biologic restraints. Unregulated growth is caused by damage to DNA and can result in mutations to the genes that control cell division, the cells just keep continuing to divide.
This is why cancer in elderly people is so common and as a population, because we are living longer, we are experiencing more cancer. Cells divide more the more we age.
Regardless of age, in cancer the cell replication and cell death processes have gone wrong somewhere. This is what we need to understand – what is driving cell replication to not work effectively.
Different types of cancer include:
• Carcinoma – cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
• Sarcoma – cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.
• Leukaemia – cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood. Lymphoma and myeloma – cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.
• Central nervous system cancers – cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
Common early warning cancer signs include:
• A change in bowel or bladder habit
• Non-healing sores
• Unusual bleeding or discharge
• Newly discovered lumps
• Changes in moles or warts
• Difficulty swallowing
• Persistent cough or spitting up blood
• Loss of weight or appetite
• Persistent fatigue
There may also be lumps or obstructions, local pain or tissue necrosis which may need to bleeding or infections.
Tumours are classified in accordance with their behavior, tissue of origin, site and whether they are primary or secondary. Malignancy is measured by how invasive the tumour is and metastasis is when the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer cells contain genetic mutations which lead to structural and functional changes in proteins. This cause upregulated growth and immune evasion.
What causes cancer?
What causes cancer is not an easy thing to define due to its multifactorial nature but diet, environmental toxins, stress, lack of physical movement and lack of exposure to nature play their role.
Heavy metal exposure and chemical exposure have also been implicated in the pathogenesis of certain cancers. For example, the incidence of bladder and breast cancers among cosmetologists and manicurists is extremely high, as is the incidence of lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma in people exposed to asbestos.
Lung cancer and breast cancer incidentally are two cancers that are triggered and promoted by exposure to xenoestrogens such as plastics, herbicides and pesticides that break down to oestrogen-like compounds. Incidentally, lung cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in both sexes.
Other triggers include infection by various organisms such as hepatitis for liver cancer, Epstein Barr virus for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or H. Pylorii, a known risk factor for gastric cancers. Mycoplasma infections have been linked to colon, oesophageal, lung, breast cancers and gliomas in the brain. Radiation is linked with a number of childhood cancers.
So what can we do?
According to Macmillan Cancer Research, almost one in two people will get cancer at some point in their lives by 2020. That’s a sobering thought. A lot of people walk through the door who have already been diagnosed, but I also see a lot of people who either actively ask to do some cancer prevention work, or who I add it into their protocol when I see their family, health and lifestyle history.
Reduce your risk as much as possible
Understand your terrain. Do some functional testing, see if there’s anything awry. Get your gut healthy, clean up your diet, learn how to prepare your food correctly, consider environmental toxins and limit your exposure to xenoestrogens and eat organic. Get your liver working really well so you are clearing toxins properly. We can do this with food, nutraceuticals and herbal medicine.
Balance your blood sugar: Cancer cells have a high demand for sugar and a low requirement for oxygen. Learning how to balance your blood sugar and preventing insulin resistance is key.
If you have already been diagnosed with cancer, get your allopathic treatment tailored to you. Open a dialogue between the oncologist and your practitioner. You’d be surprised how many oncologists are open to learning.
Take a functional approach and support your body systems
You need to then support the body’s system as best you can, reducing toxicity and damage brought about by conventional treatments and enhancing chemotherapy activity with appropriate botanicals. Find out your nutrient status and correct any deficiencies. Investigate whether inflammatory processes are being kept in check. How sticky is your blood? Cancer patients have an increased risk for venous thrombosis. How are your hormones looking? What additional environmental toxins can be removed? What herbs and supplements do you need to take that are appropriate for you to enhance what you are doing with food?
Look at your genetics
Genetics play an important role both for prevention and for treatment protocol planning both in natural medicine and for the oncologist as we can find out what is happening with body processes that need to be upregulated (including methylation and liver detox pathways), we can find out what drugs you are likely to have adverse reactions to, what nutrient deficiencies you are likely to have, how your neurotransmitters look. Given a positive mental outlook is one of the most important factors for a positive outcome, these adjustments can be very empowering.
Written by Carolina Brooks