Cancer is not just pure ‘bad luck’
In the never-ending race to attract public attention (and better ratings), the media will use any opportunity to bring ‘exciting’ news – but without considering its truthfulness or far-reaching consequences. The most recent example of such media hype relates to the publication of a scientific study in January 2015, which concluded that cancer is no more than ‘bad luck’. Taking into account the public health consequences of spreading such nihilistic views based on inadequate data, we feel that this topic needs to be addressed in a wider context.
By Dr. Aleksandra Niedzwiecki, Dr. Rath Research Institute
This particular study, published by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, Maryland) in a prominent journal, Science, measured the proportion of cancer incidence across 31 tissue types using a mathematical model. The study authors concluded that in 22 cancers, or two-thirds of the total reviewed, they could not find any cause for the appearance of cancer other than "bad luck" or the random mutations (errors) that may arise during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells. This conclusion, when broadcast over the media, gives the impression that people are powerless when it comes to the prevention of cancer. Supposedly, the only options left are early diagnosis, possible surgery, chemotherapy and …death.
Doesn’t this remind us that, centuries ago, human diseases were presented as a ‘curse from heaven’ or as the ‘punishment’ of sinners? It was the discovery of bacteria and infectious agents that gradually eliminated this nonsensical idea. Are we turning back to the ‘dark ages’ of medicine? If we accept that ‘bad luck’ is the cause of cancer, why has the number of such unfortunate cancer victims dramatically increased in recent decades? What has accelerated the occurrence of such ‘bad luck’?
An acceptance of the idea that cancer is simply “bad luck” may deter many people from adopting healthy dietary habits and life-style changes, and may even promote reckless behavior. People may ask themselves, “Why should I deprive myself of the pleasure of smoking if my cancer risk is only a matter of chance?” Moreover, it might be tempting for lawyers to cite “bad luck” as scientific evidence in legal trials when defending manufacturers of carcinogenic drugs and chemicals charged with polluting our environment and exposing us to health risks, thus obscuring their responsibility for the harm done to individuals and the human population at large. To take this line of argument further, if cancer is just “bad luck”, why do we need an environmental protection agency, food standards, or anything that is supposedly intended to protect our health?
The media blurs, distorts and ignores a mountain of evidence showing that cancer is in fact preventable, that it can be controlled and that tumor development is too complex to be branded simply as “bad luck.”
First, understand what a ‘mutation’ is
Mutation is a natural process that results in changing a sequence of nucleotides (building blocks) in cellular DNA. Mutation is actually more common than many people think; not all mutations are undesirable or bad and they make us all different and unique.
Every cell which is ready to divide makes an identical copy of its DNA so that it can pass it to a newly formed cell. Such copies, however, are not always identical and each time one of our cells divides it can make about 120,000 typos in its newly formed DNA strand. Fortunately, the cells are able to repair most of these mistakes by having specific DNA repairing machinery working constantly, fixing mismatched nucleotides and splicing broken DNA strands back together. Nevertheless, some DNA ‘misprints’ may escape. If a cell accumulates too many DNA errors that its repair machinery cannot fix, it either stops dividing or self-destructs in a process called apoptosis. If any of these processes go wrong, then the cell might enter a path of becoming cancerous. However, it still faces numerous obstacles on its way to being called “cancer”.
Not all mutations are ‘bad luck’
Most DNA changes occur in the large areas of the genome that sit between genes, but usually they have no effect. When the change occurs within genes, whilst there is usually a consequence from it, even then mutation only rarely causes death or disease. Most often, mutation gives rise to variations that are neither good nor bad, just different, such as those affecting our ability to detect smell, the color of our hair or skin, or our body shape etc. Overall, these changes facilitate population changes over time.
Some unrepaired DNA changes in a cell that will become an egg or a sperm allow them to be passed down to offspring. But also, thanks to mutation, we all have some new variations that were not present in our parents. Variations that help an organism survive and reproduce are passed on to the next generation. Variations that hinder survival and reproduction are eliminated from the population. This process of natural selection can lead to significant changes in the appearance, behavior, or physiology of individuals in a population in just a few generations.
How mutation can lead to cancer
Somatic mutations, the ones occurring in cells that make up the body and that are not involved in reproduction, have long been recognized as a feature of cancer. However, the chance of developing cancer from a single mutation is very small; therefore, cancer cells need to accumulate multiple and specific DNA errors. In addition, cancer has to overcome multiple safeguard systems that our body has at its disposal to protect us against it. These include complex intracellular repair machinery and the scavenging and destruction of such abnormal cells by our immune system. Many of these safeguards become less effective with age, which may explain the higher risk of cancer in older people. However, other factors are also involved as the rate of cancer incidence exceeds the rate of aging in our population.
Mutation is not always a random unexpected event. It has been well established that radiation, chemicals, byproducts of cellular metabolism, free radicals and ultraviolet rays from the sun damage DNA in each of our cells every day. They affect the nucleotides themselves: converting one base to another, knocking a base off its backbone, or even causing a break in the DNA strand. The most potent carcinogens include cancer chemotherapy drugs which cause DNA damage also in healthy cells, thus triggering new cancers. Also, deficiency of certain vitamins and micronutrients can similarly facilitate DNA damage.
The most critical mutations that can contribute to the development of cancer occur in specific groups of genes, which can be classified as:
Mutations in so-called tumor suppressor genes, which protect us against cancer.
These genes inhibit cell growth by controlling cell division rate, repairing mismatched DNA and controlling when a cell dies. When mutations in a tumor suppressor gene occur, the cell can start growing uncontrollably and may eventually form a mass called a tumor. The best known examples of tumor suppressor genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2, which increase a woman’s risk of developing hereditary breast or ovarian cancers, and p53, which is the most commonly mutated gene in people who have cancer. In fact, more than 50% of all cancers involve a missing or damaged p53 gene. Most p53 gene mutations are not inherited, but acquired.
Mutations that activate oncogenes, which are the genes that can turn a healthy cell into a cancerous cell.
Best known oncogenes are HER2 (a protein that controls cancer growth and spread, found on some breast and ovarian cancer cells) and the ras family of genes (genes that make proteins involved in cell communication pathways, cell growth, and cell death). Mutations in these genes are almost always acquired, as opposed to being inherited.
Mutations in DNA repair genes, which correct mistakes made when the DNA is copied.
Such mutations can be inherited (such as with Lynch syndrome) or acquired.
Science shows that cancer is not a simple error (mutation) in DNA. Moreover, there are many cancers that cannot be linked to a specific gene.
Cancer and nutrition
Today we know that the development of cancer is not solely related to our genes. The genesis of cancer is more complex than this, as different genes and their interactions with the intra- and extra-cellular environment are simultaneously involved in the process. The interaction between different cells in the tissue, as well as the collagen surrounding them and other components of the so-called extracellular matrix, plays a critical role. Both our own work and that of other researchers indicates that many natural dietary factors, including micronutrients, can suppress the development of cancer by simultaneously acting on many steps of its development. These include vitamin C, the amino acid Lysine, an extract from green tea known as Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), and many other compounds that can induce the natural elimination of abnormal cells and suppress the secretion of enzymes facilitating the invasion of cancer cells in the body. Many nutrients, such as vitamin D, have specific receptors on cellular DNA and show strong anti-cancer effects. Vitamin C and many other antioxidants protect us from external toxins and intracellular metabolic damage – including damage to DNA, the source of mutations.
Unfortunately, there are no economic incentives in pursuing this research direction as business investors are looking only for how much money they can make, and how fast, and as such are not eager to support non-patentable approaches. Other funding institutions, including many foundations, also prefer scientific projects that result in increasing their Intellectual Property portfolios, patents, exclusivity and returns on investment. In contrast to this, the Dr. Rath Research Institute has a unique position in health science as it dedicates its entire research output to advancing natural, safe and cost effective approaches for controlling cancer and other human diseases. Our priority is efficacy over profit.
Why certain cancers develop more often in some tissues than in others
The answer to this intriguing question was provided by Dr. Rath many years ago and is described in more detail in our book, Victory Over Cancer. However, it was not taken into account in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, which offered another, limited, view of this topic.
Dr. Rath’s explanation takes into consideration an essential part of the cancer process, namely, the growth of tumors and spread of cancer to other organs. Every type of cancer cell has the ability to destroy its surroundings with the help of specific enzymes, Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs), thereby creating space to accommodate new growth (tumors) and paving the way to invading other organs (metastasis). All our body organs can produce these enzymes to support healthy growth and the tissue renewal process, but at different levels and under strict metabolic control. Interestingly therefore, those organs which produce the largest quantities of these enzymes, under normal physiological conditions, are also the ones which develop cancers most often. These organs include the breasts, womb and ovaries in women, the prostate in men and growing bones in children. In such organs, frequent restructuring is a part of normal physiology, such as that associated with pregnancy, sperm production, growth and infections, and can easily escape its biological control.
Such uncontrolled enzymatic tissue destruction, essential for tumor growth and spread, is promoted by many factors that are known to increase the risk of cancer. These include fluctuating hormone levels (i.e. estrogen), long term (chronic) inflammation caused by certain infections, asbestos, and a host of other external influences such as exposure to various chemicals (chemotherapy agents) and radiation, amongst others. One recent example is a direct link between cancer and estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), confirmed in a large clinical study of menopausal women. The publication of this study in 2002 resulted in a significant decrease in the number of prescriptions for this drug, which was followed by marked decrease in the incidence of breast cancer.
Of course, tissue restructuring is accompanied by frequent cell division – thus increasing the likelihood of mutation. However, contrary to what the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study suggests, the cell multiplication rate is not sufficient to make any organ prone to cancer. Interestingly therefore, the analysis of this study excluded breast cancer – the organ that regularly restructures under hormonal control, and the most frequent type of cancer in women – and also prostate cancer.
Cancer’s ‘bad luck’ CAN be controlled!
There is a large body of evidence showing that up to 50 per cent of cancer cases can be prevented through the elimination of smoking, unhealthy body weight, poor diet, and harmful environmental/occupational exposures. As with many other chronic diseases, it is impossible to identify who will develop cancer. However, the odds of developing the most common cancers, such as those of the lung, breast, prostate or colorectal cancer, can be reduced by making healthier choices.
It is surprising that the authors of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study seem to have overlooked the fact that carcinogenic compounds (including chemotherapy!) can both cause mutations and promote cancer by facilitating the uncontrolled destruction of tissues. Scientists, physicians and the general public need to be aware of this fact. In order for the necessary research and regulatory attention to hazardous chemicals and environmental pollution to take place, more widespread education is needed.
Can we trust the medical/research establishment?
During the past two decades Dr. Rath and our Foundation have been alerting the public about the negative impacts on our health of the ‘pharmaceutical business with disease’, including its encroachment on political decisions, medical guidelines, regulations, control of the media and many other areas. With time, more and more doctors and researchers have experienced this and publicly expressed their concerns regarding the economic influences of the pharma business on science, medicine and other areas of human health. Among these, Dr. Marcia Angell, a well-known respected physician and former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, once stated: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.” In this respect, the passage from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, which states that “The best way to eradicate these cancers will be through early detection, when they are still curable by surgery,” sounds suspiciously like yet another deception coming from the so-called “experts” of the cancer industry. The subtle message it conveys is: Don’t bother with your diet, supplements, exercise, clean air, pesticide-free natural food – cancer is only “bad luck” and only WE can cure it.
Rather than succumb to this return to medievalism, we must ensure that natural health science, and trustworthy research, is our guide!
See these links for more information:
- Victory Over Cancer, Matthias Rath, M.D. and Aleksandra Niedzwiecki, Ph.D., 2011.
- Dr. Rath Research Institute, Santa Clara, CA, USA.
- Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions, Science,2 January 2015: Vol. 347 no. 6217 pp. 78-81.
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