Cancer and Inflammation – Part 1: How to stack the odds in your favor.

By Dr. Elaine Rancatore

October was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We proudly wear our pink ribbons in support and remembrance of those closest to us who have been affected by this devastating disease.  We are reminded of the importance of monthly self- breast exams and the benefits of mammography.  We participate in various charitable events to raise money for research.

We have made tremendous strides with respect to early detection and treatment of cancer.

But what about prevention?

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), roughly one–third of all cancer deaths in the United States are related to poor nutrition, physical inactivity and overweight/obesity. These are lifestyle factors that are modifiable, meaning under our control.  Environmental exposures and tobacco use are also contributors.

Our genetics (DNA) also play a role, but these modifiable risk factors greatly influence the expression of our genetics.  That is, in the case of cancer, we may have the gene for a particular type of cancer, we may at some point in our lives have cancer cells in our bodies, but whether they multiple and grow into a tumor and give us the disease is influenced by our lifestyle.

The Cancer and Inflammation connection.

In 1863, a German physician, Rudolf Virchow provided the first indication of a potential link between inflammation and cancer. He observed that some patients developed cancer in areas of the body that had previously been injured.  He also noted the presence of white blood cells in cancer tissue. He hypothesized that cancer was like a wound repair gone awry. Since then, there have been others who have made the connection between inflammation and cancer.   More recently, in addition to cancer, inflammation has been recognized as a contributor to most chronic diseases. Diabetes, Heart disease, Stroke, Crohn’s disease, and yes, CANCER!

What is Inflammation? Why do we have an inflammatory response to injury and illness?

Simply stated, if you were to accidentally step on a piece of glass, cutting your foot, your immune system would respond by sending an array of chemicals and blood cells to the area of injury. This would allow your body to get rid of any invading bacteria, stop the bleeding and begin the process of self -repair.  This is a useful defense in an acute situation.  Under normal circumstances, once the healing has occurred, the inflammatory response ceases. When the inflammatory process is chronic or doesn’t stop, we have the potential for serious problems. It is now understood that cancer cells thrive in a neighborhood of inflammation. In a very complex interaction between cancer cells and our own immune defenses, cancer cells can multiple, grow new blood vessels to feed themselves and spread to other areas of our bodies.

What creates a chronic state of inflammation?

There are many culprits, but most notable are our familiar foes:

1. Obesity

2. Our Food Choices: Imbalance between Pro-inflammatory Foods/ Anti- inflammatory Foods

3. Sedentary Lifestyle

4. Chronic Stress

5. Lack of Restorative Sleep.

Next: We will look further into the chronic inflammatory state and its role in the cancer process. We will also explore the power of food in the fight against cancer. Part 2.

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