Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm

In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection

[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series:  Cancer for a Fortnight and Before Early Detection.  See also Crap for the Cure.]

If we’re going to attempt to prevent cancer, it is only logical to begin by considering how cancer gets started.  If we can short-circuit the process by which cancer gains a foothold in the body, we can avoid entirely the need for the elusive Cure. 

Sidebar before you get your skivvies in a wad:  For the last time, people, I am NOT saying that EVERY case of cancer is preventable.  What I AM saying is that a great many of them ARE.  This series explains why and how.  K?  K.

A great many factors play into cancer’s beginnings.  These range from exposure to environmental toxins to excessive blood insulin to inadequate micronutrient support to stress and lack of exercise.  These topics overlap and interweave so much that it’s hard to shake them apart for discussion.  Fortunately, they all intersect at one, key point with which we can deal decisively through lifestyle choices:  inflammation.

Inflammation is a natural by-product of the immune system’s response to physical damage.  You slice a finger with a knife, you get your foot stomped by a Clydesdale, you crash and burn on your mountain bike.  What happens?  The injured areas become swollen, red, and painful while your white blood cells produce special substances (cytokines, leukotrines, prostaglandins, and more) to facilitate the mopping up of invading bacteria and reconstruction of damaged cellular structures.

This inflammatory response involves intentional release of oxidants and free radicals by the white blood cells.  Most people know that oxidants and free radicals are harmful to cells, and that’s the point — our immune systems use them to battle infection.  In acute inflammatory situations, this is a life-saving mechanism.  In the case of chronic inflammation, however, it’s not hard to see how the immune system’s efforts turn against us as all those free radicals damage not only invaders, but healthy cells.

So.  Chronic inflammation is bad.  Got it.  But what has all this to do with cancer?

Cancer is an inflammatory disease.  It is chronic inflammation.  As Anticancer: A New Way of Life author Dr. Servan-Schreiber describes it, cancer is “a wound that doesn’t heal.”  In fact, he cites a statistic that 1 in 6 cancers are directly linked to another, identifiable inflammatory condition such as papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer) or bronchial irritation due to the toxins in cigarette smoke (which can lead to lung cancer).  How many more cases do you suppose are linked to unidentified chronic inflammatory conditions?

Cancer’s sinister power is in its ability to turn our bodies’ own defense mechanisms against us.  Inflammation is a classic example.  Cancer cells actually promote the production of our immune system’s inflammatory substances and use them as fertilizer for their own reproduction.  Our healing processes turn harmful as the tumor expands and metastasizes.

The good news is that we can fight back.  We have control over myriad lifestyle decisions that are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.  Pro-inflammatory choices fuel cancer.  Anti-inflammatory ones douse its flame.

Tomorrow’s post will discuss many of those lifestyle choices:


Bonus discussion:  How can I tell whether I suffer from chronic inflammation?

Good question.  Many types of chronic inflammation are invisible to the casual observer, and their effects may be so much a part of our daily lives that we don’t realize anything is wrong.

For example, old root canals are often chambers of infection that persist for years.  You don’t feel it, because the nerves are gone, but leftover tissue rots in that perfectly sealed, anaerobic microbial “greenhouse.”  These microbes make their way into other parts of the body and can result in cancer development or recurrence.

Additional examples of chronic inflammation include gut irritation (very common, frequently due to gluten and/or lactose sensitivity) and the atherosclerotic lesions representative of coronary heart disease.  More overt symptoms such as arthritis, seasonal allergies, and acne also evidence underlying inflammatory conditions.

Here’s one more:  If you suffer from metabolic syndrome (and if your waist measurement is larger than your hip measurement, you do!), you are inflamed.  Probably badly. 

If you’re really curious, your inflammation level can be tested in a lab.  High insulin or fasting blood glucose levels are usually indicative of inflammation.  You can also have your blood tested for C-reactive protein (CRP).  Interleukin-6 is another marker that can be tested.  The medical community has not established “ideal” levels of CRP or interleukin-6, but in general, lower levels are better.

Or, you can simply make the rather safe assumption that if you live in a modern, Western culture and aren’t considered “a bit weird” for your lifestyle choices, you are inflamed.  Sorry.  It’s just the facts, ma’am.  Just the facts.


The New Plague of our Times by James South, MA

Chronic Inflammation and Cancer by Krystyna Frenkel, PhD

The Relationship Between Root Canals and Cancer, Independent Cancer Research Foundation


My Food, My Medicine:  black coffee, scrambled duck eggs, spinach, leeks, sausage, mushrooms, yellow onion, thyme, garlic, red pepper, black pepper, coconut oil, red grapes, jasmine green tea, coconut cream concentrate, kippered herring, lamb meatballs in marinara:  lamb, egg, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic; baked spaghetti squash, olive oil, salt, mint green tea, cranberries

Workout:  10x running sprints on the level


12 responses

  1. Kath (Eating for Living)

    Very interesting! I’ve also read that many especially aggressive cancer cells live off just glucose, so eating a diet with few sugar and carbs helps starving the cancer cells (literally). This is why the heart never gets cancer, because it’s the only organ that doesn’t function via glucose metabolism.

    November 14, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    • Right you are! In fact, sugar will get a post of its own in this series — it’s terribly important to the whole topic of cancer prevention.

      November 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm

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