For those who were born in the month of seven (July),
NO, we are not talking about you today!
The topic that we will be discussing today is cancer, the most feared disease amongst the healthy population today.
What is cancer and what causes cancer?
What is cancer?
Imagine that there is a system in our body that controls the growth of every cell in the body.
When you accidentally cut yourself, the system orders the skin cells around the wound to start replicating and “mend” the wound. As soon as the wound is “mended”, the system orders the cells to stop growing, and the skin looks normal again.
Also, like human (which is really just a big chunk of a lot of cells), as these cells grow old, they die. For example, we lose around 100-125 hairs per day, but yet most of us don’t go bald. This is another example of the system at work. It commands our cells to replicate and replace those lost cells.
Cancer is a condition where the cells start to disobey this system and keep growing uncontrollably. Very often, these cancerous cells will grow into masses of tissues (groups of cells). We call them tumours.
Cancer tumours: benign or malignant
There are two types of tumours – benign and malignant.
Benign tumours are localised tumours, that stay where they are when they first formed. Once removed, they usually do not grow back. This type of tumours is relatively safe, unless they grow in an area where surgical removal can be dangerous such as in the brain.
Malignant tumours on the other hand, are extremely dangerous. They spread into other tissues, and can simultaneously grow uncontrollably in several locations. They are also difficult to completely eradicate. Often, a malignant tumour can grow back after surgery removal.
The difference between normal cells and cancer cells
What makes these cancer cells so dangerous?
First, they will grow NON-STOP.
When they are around normal cells, these cancer cells will take over the space and start take away the nutrients from these normal cells. They can even influence the nearby normal cells to form a microenvironment, which is an area that surrounds and feed them. For example, a tumour can induce nearby cells to form blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients. These blood vessels will also help remove waste products from the tumour.
Second, cancer cells are less specialised than normal cells.
Normal cells mature into distinct cells with very specific functions. For example, a cell near the skin will mature into a skin cell, and perform functions such as acting as a barrier for the body, temperature regulation through sweating etc.
Tumour cells on the other hand, are less specialised and have generally serve no specific function. Most of the resources provided to them, they use it for growth.
Cancer cells are able to hide from immune system
Body is a very smart machine. Whenever something harmful is inside the body, the immune system will start a series of reactions to eradicate it.
But cancer cells are even smarter. They disguise themselves as normal cells, and are able to evade the immune system (1).
What causes cancer?
Sadly our understanding of this condition is still very poor. So far we have noticed that some forms of cancer tend to run in the family. If one of the parents or ancestors had it, that person is more likely to get it again.
Our theory to this is that, there is a code written on our DNA – and that code determines if we are more likely to get this condition or not. This code, as it is embedded in our genes, is able to be passed on to the next generations.
We can broadly divide these bad genes into two main types – oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes. If the wrong code is written on an oncogene, it causes the cell grow and divide faster. If the wrong code is located on a tumour suppressor gene, our mechanism of stopping cell growth will stop working (2).
Think of cell growth as a moving car. An oncogene is like the gas pedal and tumour suppressor gene is the brake system. Having a mutated oncogene is like driving a car with the gas pedal stuck down, and having a mutated tumour suppressing gene is like driving a car with non-functioning brake.
Cigarette smoke is made up of over 7000 chemicals. 70 of those have been identified as cancer causing (3). We gave these cancer causing agents a fancy name – Carcinogens.
Look, if it is embedded in our genes, then there is nothing really we can do about it.
But cigarette smoking is a whole different story..
You introduce these carcinogens into your body. You give them the permission to cause cancer in your body.
So you’ve got the point and I’m not going to go on.
If possible, quit smoking today!
If you need additional resources or help, check out my other post:
Diet and physical activities
How much do daily habits like diet and exercise affect your risk for cancer?
It is actually much more than you might think.
Research has shown that poor diet and not being active are 2 key factors that can increase a person’s cancer risk. (4)
The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition. (5)
Scary huh? Even not doing anything can be a cause of cancer?
At least you can do something about it.
Start eating healthy and getting fit again today. Again if you need additional tools or resources, check out my post on curated tools and resources to make 2016 your healthiest year ever.
Don’t just sit there and watch Astro or Netflix (apparently coming soon, yay!)
Related reading: How Bananas can help you lose weight fast
Sunlight and UV exposure
Excessive UV light exposure is the number one risk factor of getting skin cancer.
We need a little sunlight everyday to get our healthy dose of vitamin D.
But if you are going to be out in the sun for long, make sure you wear a sunscreen product.
Radiation is the emission of energy from other sources. Sunlight is an example of radiation from sun. It brings power (in the form of light and heat) to us.
There are many types of radiations around us: sunlight, cellular wave from mobile phones, microwaves etc.
But not all of these radiations can cause tumours.
The type of mutation-causing radiations are called high energy radiation. Examples include Gamma Ray (the one that caused Bruce Banner to turn into the Hulk), x-rays and some forms of high energy UV ray. (6)
On the other hand, the radiation from mobile phones, or microwaves are classifed as radiofrequency (RF) radiation and are considered low energy radiation. They can produce heat by causing the molecules to vibrate faster, but they can’t actually cause a mutation in cells (at least no proven yet)(7).
Having said that, don’t risk your lives.
Try to keep away from microwaved food – it’s nutritiously bad for you anyway, and don’t sleep with your cellphone next to you.
There are many others known carcinogens. Chemicals in household cleaning products, drugs, stress, pollution etc.
Basically anything that puts your body under pressure, be it pressure from having to detox, or pressure from not getting enough rest, can cause your cells to mutate and turn into cancerous cells.
Bonus: Download this complete list of carcinogens for free here
As a rule of thumb, just live a healthy and happy life.
I’m going to end this post here. I hope you now understand this condition a bit better.
Most importantly, I hope everyone will start living a healthy life from now on. Eat healthy nutritious diet, exercise more often, stay off tobacco, avoid excessive sunlight and chemical exposure and handle stress a bit better.
Don’t leave it till too late. It’s often too late and you have to go through painful recovery once they are found in your body.
Let me know if you have any question about this condition in the comment section below and stay tuned for part 2: Supplements that can help prevent cancer.
- Igney, Frederik H., and Peter H. Krammer. “Immune escape of tumors: apoptosis resistance and tumor counterattack.” Journal of leukocyte biology71.6 (2002): 907-920.
- “What Causes Cancer?” What Causes Cancer. American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/index>
- “Carcinogens in Tobacco Products.” Carcinogens Found in Tobacco Products. American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products>.
- “Diet and Physical Activity: What’s the Cancer Connection?” Diet and Physical Activity: What’s the Cancer Connection? American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/diet-and-physical-activity>.
- “Does Body Weight Affect Cancer Risk?” Does Body Weight Affect Cancer Risk? American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/bodyweightandcancerrisk/body-weight-and-cancer-risk-effects>.
- “X-rays, Gamma Rays, and Cancer Risk.” X-rays, Gamma Rays, and Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/radiationexposureandcancer/xraysgammaraysandcancerrisk/index>.
- “Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation.” Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation. American Cancer Society. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/radiationexposureandcancer/radiofrequency-radiation>.