The Vicious Cycle: Inflammation and Cancer
There’s been a lot of debate recently about the role of inflammation and cancer development, growth, and the way it spreads throughout the body.
The conventional medical community makes broad and non-sensical statements such as “the cause of cancer is unknown” and “there’s currently no cure for the disease.”
Sure, they say UV exposure causes skin cancer, and smoking leads to most cases of lung cancer but outside of the obvious culprits, they are clearly lost. What is everyone missing?
The trademarks of cancer
There are six fundamental properties that manifest in otherwise normal cells that provide them with self-sufficient growth, resistance to anti-growth signals, ability to ignore pro-death signals (apoptosis), unlimited replicative potential, the maintenance of vascularization (for food supply), and dysfunctional tumor suppressors (leading to malignancy and metastasis).
However, none of these alone are sufficient for the development of cancer.
There needs to be a shift in the surrounding cells, which may not be cancerous themselves, but create a growth-friendly environment for the tumor to flourish.
Specifically, there needs to be inflammation for cancer to flourish!
Believe me when I say that this is excellent news. Inflammation is relatively easy to prevent and not very difficult to halt if you’re already in an inflammatory state. In fact, an anti-inflammatory state is a natural side effect of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Research over the last two decades has solidified the concept that tumor development and malignancy is the result of processes involving both the cancer cells themselves and non-cancer cells around them, many of which comprise a diverse multicellular mass.
Cancer is an “outgrowth” of normal healthy tissue that has gone off in a different direction. Regulation of growth and multiplication has been lost.
There are four essential phases in this outgrowth process.
1. Predisposition means genetic changes within the “cancer cell,” such as point mutations, gene deletion, amplification, and chromosomal rearrangements leading to irreversible cellular changes and the potential for abnormal growth.
2. Precipitation means certain cells breakthrough and go “rogue.” These will then start to clone. In other words, tumor suppressor genes have failed. The cells are now imbued with certain dangerous tendencies.
3. Prolongation needs encompassing survival factors. It has become clear that surrounding cells need to “enable” the tumor. Inflammation is important at this stage. It means that the immune system has lost the battle, at least for the time being.
4. Progression is the stage where cancer propagates, grows, and eventually spreads. Again, support from the surrounding tissues is necessary, if the cancer is to spread. For example, vascular tissue needs to proliferate, to bring more food to the rapidly growing object, a process called “angiogenesis.” A tumor doesn’t last long without food.
Without all four of these stages in place, working together, cancer either won’t grow or won’t survive. This is where inflammation (and quenching it in your body) makes the most impact!
These connections are not new
The association between inflammation and cancer has been known for a very long time. Continuously abraded wounds (rubbing, as in asbestosis and mesothelioma), localized toxins (pipe smoking or tobacco chewing leading to oral cancers), infections (papillomavirus and hepatitis B and C).
There are a number of specific infections associated with specific cancers such as Burkitt’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma (AIDS), gastric cancer secondary to Helicobacter pylori, and colon cancer triggered by long-standing inflammatory bowel disease precipitated by the intestinal microflora. In the case of ulcerative colitis, which is notoriously pro-cancerous, inflammation of a non-infectious kind.
Situations where the immune system’s inflammatory responses are in over-drive, trying to overcome an assault to the local tissue. There is leukocyte infiltration (invasion of cancer cells into the underlying matrix or the blood vessels) at the site of any chronic irritation.
We are already very clear that cancer follows any immune dysfunction. A flustered, over-worked immune system is not doing its job.
There are also reverse clues. Evidence for the role of inflammation in cancer development has come from the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in the prevention of spontaneous tumor formation in people with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP – an inherited disorder characterized by cancer of the colon and rectum).
Joining the dots and interpreting the picture which emerges is not very difficult! Cancers and inflammation are related to epidemiology, histopathology, inflammatory profiles, and the efficacy of anti-inflammatory drugs in prophylaxis (prevention of disease).
Chronic inflammatory states associated with infection and irritation are well-proven to foster genomic lesions (high frequency of mutations) in cells. One way this occurs is the production of free radicals such as reactive oxygen intermediates (ROI), hydroxyl radical (OH), superoxide (O2), reactive nitrogen intermediates (RNI), nitric oxide (NO), and peroxynitrite (ONOO-).
All of these damage DNA and increase the risk of genetic mutations.
Moreover, in the face of massive cell death (as occurs in infection or non-infectious tissue injury), lost cells must be repopulated by the expansion of other cells. There is a risk of these turning wild, in their enthusiastic growth.
It’s important to remember that a competent and not-overstressed immune system is capable of picking off cancer cells and neutralizing them.
We must protect and enhance our immune systems. That includes lowering inflammation in the tissues as drastically as possible. No effort spent lowering inflammation is wasted.
5 tips to reduce inflammation naturally
1. Eliminate pro-inflammatory foods from your eating plan. Foods that cause inflammatory reactions are not the same for everybody. Every person is unique. Avoid all manufactured foods with added sweeteners, hidden trans fats, and other chemicals that your body doesn’t want. Avoid all processed sugar and keep your glucose metrics in a good range (fasting insulin, HbA1C, etc.). If you already have type II diabetes, you already have roaring inflammation going on in your body.
2. Add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Consume adequate omega-3s (these are among nature’s finest anti-inflammatory substances). Eat plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, complete protein (such as whole eggs), nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats. Enjoy nutrient-dense shakes that give you lots of crucial vitamins and minerals in an easy delivery system.
3. Get plenty of quality sleep. Sleeping soundly is vital and you must address any sleep-deficit disorder. This is one of the most powerful (and easiest) ways I know of reducing inflammation. Inadequate sleep has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, rampant systemic inflammation, cancer, mental illness (such as anxiety and depression), and all causes of premature death.
4. Consume anti-inflammatory herbs.
- Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) has long been recognized for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Also known as frankincense, scientists are studying extracts of Boswellia report that it can switch off key cell signalers and pro-inflammatory mediators in the inflammatory cascade.
- Ginger (Zingiber Officinalis) has been valued for centuries the world over for its medicinal qualities, including its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, and sugar-moderating effects in the human body.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent. The active compound (curcumin) is a mild COX-2 inhibitor but works differently from the prescription-strength drugs (that can increase your risk of myocardial infarction or stroke).
5. You must lose weight or control your weight. Losing weight is essential if you are obese or significantly overweight. Belly fat specifically is highly inflammatory. Regular exercise is critical. Even mild (low-impact) exercise has been shown to significantly reduce your body’s inflammation and cancer risk. Heavy or extreme exercise is actually bad for you (it releases lots of free radicals). Avoid excessive cardio and instead enjoy a relaxing 30-minute walk. Yoga and tai chi are also excellent habits to incorporate into your daily life.
Of course, to truly lower inflammation and cancer risk, you also must stop smoking, regulate your alcohol intake (particularly “hard” liquors), and measurably lower all sources of stress (mental, emotional, and physical).
Lose unnecessary chemicals in your home, yard, and office while you’re at it. This includes home building supplies, feminine hygiene products, and even cosmetics or other beauty items. You’d be shocked to learn how much chemical “soup” we’re swimming in daily.
Start a “fresh” life by addressing (and destroying) chronic inflammation!
- Yale J Biol Med. 2006 Dec; 79(3-4): 123–130. Published online 2007 Oct.
- Harvard School of Medicine: Sleep and Disease Risk