It’s a common occurrence to hear of a relative or friend that has always been healthy and suddenly they are diagnosed with cancer. It seems a completely arbitrary disease. However, cancer is a progression of normal cells over an extended period of time. There is an initiation stage, a promotion stage and a progression stage. Why do our cells undergo these changes? There are many contributing factors to each stage.
Lets reflect on the initiation stage and some of the factors that contribute to this stage. The initiation stage has its origin in some type of insult to our cells. This insult may change the functioning of our genes in such a way that our body is not able to effectively kill “abnormal cells”. This is an epigenetic change – an alteration to how our genes express themselves. In healthy cells there are many checkpoints that help to identify and repair cells that are going haywire. However, some abnormal cells escape detection and destruction. Oncogenes may be activated. Oncogenes allow for the growth of cancer cells, inhibit tumor suppressor genes and inhibit stability genes that are normally functioning to repair cells.
In discussing the initiation stage, the focus is on prevention and lifestyle habits that can diminish cancer risk. Naturopathic medicine has tremendous value in identifying specific individual risk factors and working to mitigate their influence. Here’s just handful of common insults to the body’s cells that may contribute to the initiation of cancer:
- One’s nutritional status is a high priority for cancer prevention. Many studies show a diet that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables decreases the risks of many cancers.
- Toxins are key contributor to cancer initiation. We are all exposed to toxins in our environment. Toxins are in the food that we eat, the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and in the buildings that we live and work in.
- Chronic inflammation also significantly influences the initiation stage. Many people have chronic inflammation resulting from their diets, weight, lack of activity and numerous other health issues.
- Autoimmune diseases are synonymous with chronic inflammation and an altered immune response.
- Some viral and bacterial infections are known to activate cancer cells. It is well known that H. pylori can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
Approximately one third of all cancers originate from some type of lifestyle factor or environmental exposure. With increasingly poor diets and sedentary lifestyles cancer is becoming a lifestyle disease. Toxic exposures even affect gene expression as described in this article linking parental smoking to genetic changes in children.
Naturopathic medicine can help to minimize the effect these toxins have on the body. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” now truly under estimates the value of prevention.