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Cancer Overview and Risk Factors

by Lisa VanOstrand

CANCER OVERVIEW

According to the American Cancer Society, "half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The oldest specimen of a human cancer was found in the remains of a female skull dating back to the Bronze Age (1900-1600 BC). The oldest description of human cancer was found in an Egyptian manuscript written between 3000-1500 BC. It referred to tumors of the breast. The skeletal remains of Peruvian Incas, dating back 2400 years ago, contained lesions suggestive of malignant melanoma. Therefore, it would be accurate to say that cancer is not a new disease or the result of our modern industrialized age." 5

Cancer develops when cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells. Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. During the early years of a person's life, normal cells divide more rapidly until the person becomes an adult. After that, cells in most parts of the body divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells and to repair injuries. The following diagram shows the rapid reproduction of human melanoma cells growing in culture within a 12 hour time period. 6

First Frame Intermediate Frame
12:00 A.M. 12:00 P.M.

So when functioning normally, the body regulates cell growth, manufacturing new cells to replace dead and dying ones and then sends a clear signal to stop when enough cells have been produced. In cancerous cells, the stop mechanism malfunctions, and the cell reproduction continues on.

The identification of genes responsible for cancer has been a major thrust of human medical research. "One result of this research is to detail the distribution of the oncogenes, cancer genes and tumor suppressor genes throughout the human genome. These genes are found on all but two (22 and X) human chromosomes. Many of these have been cloned, analyzed in detail and have had a function assigned to them. The change of an oncogene from normal to cancerous function can be caused by a simple point mutation in the sequence of a gene. One example of how a mutation in DNA causes cancer to form is looking at what happens if a mutation occurs in gene p53. p53, located on human chromosome 17, is a gene with tumor suppressor activities. The genetic function of this gene is to prevent cell division of cells with damaged DNA. This protein contains 393 amino acids and one single amino acid substitution can lead to loss of function of the gene. Loss of function in this gene allows the possibility of damaged DNA, again resulting in the possibility of genetic changes that promote uncontrolled cell growth. About 50% of human cancers can be associated with a p53 mutation including cancers of the bladder, breast, cervix colon, lung, liver, prostate, and skin. p53 related cancers are also more aggressive and have a higher degree of fatalities."7

As the cancer cells multiply, they form masses of cells called tumors, which begin to encroach on surrounding cells, causing damage and destruction to healthy tissues. Benign tumors are distinct and well-defined, for the most part they keep to themselves. Cancerous tumors, on the other hand, in a process called metastasis, can break off from the main tumor to travel through the blood or lymph stream where they can begin to grow and replace healthy tissue in other areas of the body. 7

Cancer usually forms as a solid tumor; although some cancers, like leukemia, do not form tumors. Instead, these cancer cells involve the blood and blood-forming organs and circulate through other tissues where they grow. Not all tumors are cancerous. Benign or noncancerous tumors do not spread to other parts of the body or metastasize and, with very rare exceptions, are not life threatening.

According to Jason Elias and Katherine Ketcham, "In classic Chinese Medicine, there is no specific concept of cancer, though there is of tumors. Two main factors are stagnant blood and a blockage or accumulation of qi. All cancers are considered different manifestations of constrained liver qi. Because the qi commands the blood and keeps it moving in its proper pathways, any disorder in qi will lead to disorders in the blood. As the circulation slows down, the blood congeals and becomes stagnant, marking the first stage in the potential development of cancerous tumors.

All toxic substances are first processed in the digestive system. If toxins begin to build up and accumulate in the intestines, they preoccupy the qi, which gets tired and sluggish. Stagnant qi weakens the liver interfering with the liver's role of maintaining the free and easy flow of blood, energy and emotions, which in turn contributes to obstructions that can lead to cancer.

The Chinese also view deficient spleen/pancreas, lung and kidney qi as contributing to the development of cancer because these organ systems are directly involved in stimulating and nourishing qi and wei chi energy. Deficient qi in these vital organs saps the body's natural defenses, making it easier for diseases of all types, including cancer, to take root and thrive. If the kidney qi is deficient, the kidneys are unable to provide adequate support for the liver, which eventually leads to constrained liver qi, congealed blood, and cancer. The lungs are responsible for creating and distributing wei chi to all the vital organs, a deficiency of lung qi will cause a breakdown in the vital function, weakening the body's defensive energy and resistance to disease. A deficiency in spleen qi results in inefficient digestive process, which can leads to an excessively moist, mucous-filled environment that encourages the growth of cancers cells." 8

RISK FACTORS FROM A WESTERN AND CHINESE MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE

According to the American Cancer Society, "a risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors can be changed, and others cannot. Risk factors for cancer can include a person's age, sex, and family medical history. Others are linked to cancer-causing factors in the environment. Still others are related to lifestyle choices such as tobacco and alcohol use, diet, and sun exposure.

Having a risk factor for cancer means that a person is more likely to develop the disease at some point in their lives. However, having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will get cancer. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while other people who do develop cancer have no apparent risk factors. Even when a person who has a risk factor is diagnosed with cancer, there is no way to prove that the risk factor actually caused the cancer.

Different kinds of cancer have different risk factors. Some of the major risk factors include the following:

  • Cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx, bladder, kidney, cervix esophagus, and pancreas are related to tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff. Smoking alone causes one-third of all cancer deaths.
  • Skin cancer is related to unprotected exposure to strong sunlight.
  • Breast cancer risk factors include several factors: age; changes in hormone levels throughout life, such as age at first menstruation, number of pregnancies, and age at menopause; obesity; and physical activity. Some studies have also shown a connection between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer. Also, women with a mother or sister who have had breast cancer are more likely to develop the disease themselves.
  • While all men are at risk for prostate cancer, several factors can increase the chances of developing the disease, such as age, race, and diet. The chance of getting prostate cancer goes up with age. Prostate cancer is more common among African-American men than among white men, although the exact reason is unknown. A high-fat diet may play a part in causing prostate cancer. Also, men with a father or brother who have had prostate cancer are more likely to get prostate cancer themselves.

Overall, environmental factors, defined broadly to include tobacco use, diet, and infectious diseases, as well as chemicals and radiation cause an estimated 75% of all cancer cases in the United States. Among these factors, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and physical activity are more likely to affect personal cancer risk. Research shows that about one-third of all cancer deaths are related to dietary factors and lack of physical activity in adulthood.

Certain cancers are related to viral infections and could be prevented by behavior changes or vaccines. For example, more than 1 million skin cancers expected to be diagnosed in 2003 could have been prevented by protection from the sun's rays. Environmental factors can include smoking, diet, sun exposure, and infectious diseases, as well as chemicals and radiation in our homes and workplaces." 9

According to Giovanni Maciocia, "in Chinese Medicine, the causes of disease are usually divided into internal and external. Internal causes are considered to be suppressed emotions, while external causes would be weather and exposure to toxins. The view of the internal organs as physical-mental-emotional spheres of influence is one of the most important aspects of Chinese Medicine. Central to this is the concept of qi as a matter-energy that gives rise to physical or mental and emotional phenomena at the same time. As previously stated, in Chinese Medicine, body, mind and emotions are an integrated whole with no beginning or end, in which the internal organs are the major sphere of influence. For example, the kidneys correspond to the actual kidney organ on an anatomical level, to the energies associated with the kidneys on an energetic level, to the brain and thinking on a mental level, and to fear on an emotional level. All of these levels simultaneously interact with each other.

This is one of the differences between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine. While western medicine also recognizes the interactions between body and emotions, it does so in a completely different way than Chinese Medicine. In Western Medicine, the brain is at the top of the body-mind pyramid. The emotions affect the limbic system within the brain, nerve impulses travel down the hypothalamus, through to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve centers finally reaching the internal organs. Thus a nerve impulse, triggered off by an emotional upset, is transmitted to the relevant organ.

The view of Chinese Medicine is entirely different, the body-mind is not a pyramid, but a circle of interaction between the internal organs and their emotional aspects. Whereas Western Medicine tends to consider the influence of emotions on the organs as having a secondary or excitatory role rather than being a primary causative factor of disease, Chinese Medicine sees the emotions as an integral and inseparable part of the sphere of actions of the internal organs.

The seven emotions are: anger, joy, worry, pensiveness, sadness, fear and shock.

Each of the seven emotions has a particular effect on qi and affects a certain organ:

  • Anger makes qi rise and affects the liver
  • Joy slows qi down and affects the heart
  • Worry and pensiveness knot qi and affect the spleen (worry also affects the lungs)
  • Fear makes qi descend and affects the lungs
  • Shock scatters qi and affects the kidneys and heart

The external causes of disease are due to climatic factors, which are: wind, cold, summer-heat, dampness, dryness, and fire. Under normal circumstances, the weather will have no pathological effect on the body, as the body can adequately protect itself against exterior pathogenic factors. The weather only becomes a cause of disease when the equilibrium between the body and the environment break down, either because the weather is unseasonably excessive or because the body is weak in relation to the climatic factor.

External causes are somewhat less likely to happen in the industrialized nations, where proper housing and clothing is more readily available than in prior times.

Other causes of disease are weak constitution, over-exertion, excessive sexual activity, bad diet, trauma, parasites and poisons, and wrong treatment. Diet is an important cause of disease. Our food has never been subjected to so much chemical manipulation as in the past 30 years or so. Our food contains an incredible variety of chemicals and hormones. Agricultural growing methods have also been completely revolutionized with the abandonment of traditional ways of growing and raising animals in favor of hormones and pesticides. Modern life in the industrialized world has resulted in people becoming busier and busier, processed denatured food has replaced wholesome nutritious meals. Malnutrition causes deficiency of qi and blood and weakens the spleen function of transformation and transportation setting up a vicious circle because the lack of proper food weakens the spleen while a weak spleen fails to absorb the nutrients from what food is taken." 10

In conclusion, man is a multi-dimensional being and as such needs to nourish and have fulfillment at all of these different levels which include the physical, energetic, emotional/mental and spiritual. Each of these dimensions inner penetrates and affects the others. Any paradigm that is to bring total healing must ultimately address all of these dimensions.




5

http://www.cancer.org

6

http://www.cellsalive.com

7

http://www.ndsu.nodak.edu/instruct/mcclean/plsc431/cellcycle/cellcycl7.htm

8

Jason Elias, L.Ac., and Katherine Ketcham, Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity, p 355-356, Three Rivers Press, New York, New York, 1998

9

http://www.cancer.org

10

Giovanni Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, p 129-141, Churchill Livingston, Edinburgh London Madrid Melbourne NewYork and Tokoyo, 1989

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