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Summaries of Recent Cancer Research
P. Anthony Chapdelaine, Jr., MD, MSPH, Exec. Dir./Sec. (The National Fund for Alternative Medicine)
As we’ve mentioned in other articles on our foundation’s three websites (www.arthritistrust.org, www.nationalalzdiseaseinstitute.org, and www.cancertreatprevent.org), lifestyle and environmental factors jump-start inflammation. Inflammation is responsible for most chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, dementia, and cancer.
For example, epidemiologic (population studies) of women exposed to famine while pregnant give birth to underweight children, who later in life have higher rates of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. These underweight children had their own children who had adequate prenatal nutrition, and yet they were still born smaller. These children had adequate nutrition during their lifetimes, but their children were also born smaller. Thus an environmental effect (mother’s inadequate nutrition during pregnancy) led to a change in her children’s and grandchildren’s genes that had carried on for at least two generations. This finding was duplicated in experiments with mice (that had a specific genetic defect leading to early death). The pregnant mice given B vitamin supplements gave birth to mice that defied all genetic odds and lived a normal healthy lifespan. This finding is contrary to what medical doctors and schools have taught for much of the last century: that the genetic code is inherited and the environment cannot change that code for a parent’s offspring and future generations. This is finally recognized by some scientists who term the phenomenon “epigenetics.”
A new 2018 analysis emphasizes that almost half of all cancers are due to modifiable lifestyle choices: “cigarette smoking; secondhand smoke; excess body weight; alcohol intake; consumption of red and processed meat; low consumption of fruits/vegetables, dietary fiber, and dietary calcium; physical inactivity; ultraviolet radiation; and 6 cancer‐associated infections.” Ultraviolet light from sun exposure or tanning beds accounts for about 95% of skin cancers (Islami F, et al, “Proportion and number of cancer cases and deaths attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors in the United States,” CA Cancer J Clin, 2018, 68, Pgs 31‐54, https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21440).
A meta-analysis published in 2018 in the International Journal of Cancer showed that women consuming red meat increased breast cancer risk by 6%. Women eating processed meat products (hot dogs, bologna, bacon, etc.) increased their breast cancer risk by 9%.
The World Health Organization says epidemiologic studies show that eating processed meats such as bacon increases risk of colorectal cancer.
2-methylimidazole (2-MEI) and 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) are formed by a chemical reaction between sugar, ammonia, and sulfates. These are used to make caramel colorings that are added to sodas. They can also be formed when roasting or grilling meats. MEI causes cancer in mice and rats and is considered a carcinogen (potential cancer-causing substance) for humans.
According to a study of 260,000 colon cancer patients, one-out-of-six was younger than 50, and these patients were more likely to have advanced cancer. Colon cancer rates are rising in younger people and decreasing in older people. The reason for this is unknown, but it could be related to physical inactivity and obesity.
A study published in 2015 in the medical journal Cancer Research found that certain avocado molecules destroyed the stem cells that cause acute myeloid leukemia blood cancer, but leave healthy cells alone. Few chemotherapy drugs can destroy the stem cells without harming the healthy cells, so researchers are trying to create a drug derived from avocado.
One out of every six people in the US lives near a “Superfund” site. Many more people have moved from these sites. These are the most toxic land and water areas in the US, and Congress allocated clean-up funds for these sites in 1980. With depleting funds, and decreases in Congressional appropriations since 1995, many of the 47,000 sites still need to be cleaned. These dirty areas were formed by decades of chemical, radioactive, and heavy metal dumping and leaking. For decades, these sites (often abandoned by companies who created them, but can’t afford to clean them) have exposed many millions of people to the most dangerous toxins that are known to cause sickness and death. Toxins from these sites come from a variety of situations: aluminum, copper, iron, and zinc mines (with associated lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury); manufacturing chemicals dumped or released into rivers (which is still going on); landfills that leak toxic gases and leach heavy metals and chemicals into the surrounding soil, streams, and wells; failed or closed-down nuclear plants and testing sites with high levels of ground, air, and water radiation; military camps unwittingly using solvents and gasoline to clean clothes and machinery that contaminated their well water (linked later on to cancer and birth defects); fumigants sprayed to control insects and rodents contaminating the ground and water table. Chronic diseases such as cancer result from cumulative, long-term exposures to free radical “oxidants” and subsequent genetic mutations. Since a large portion of US citizens have been, or still are, directly exposed to these toxins they face an increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and other chronic health problems. The EPA has the list of the Superfund sites. The rest of us are exposed to smaller amounts of these same toxins in our food, water, and air supplies. A large Washington University study found women frequently exposed to pesticides, phthalates (in hairsprays, lotions, nail polish, cash register receipts, etc.), and other chemicals experience menopause 2 to 4 years earlier than would be expected. The study concluded more research is needed to determine whether the chemicals caused the earlier menopause.
A commonly overlooked environmental exposure that causes about 15% of lung cancers is radon, an odorless and colorless gas formed by the breakdown of uranium, which is found in most soils. Inexpensive test kits can check for radon. These kits are available from hardware stores, through internet sites, and from several state health departments.
A 2016 study found that heavy smokers hospitalized with pneumonia had a much greater chance of being diagnosed with lung cancer than smokers who weren’t hospitalized with pneumonia.
A study about the deadly skin cancer melanoma showed that people who had melanomas on their neck or scalp died about twice as often as people who had melanomas on other parts of the body. When outdoors for more than fifteen minutes, applying sunscreen to the neck and scalp and wearing a hat may help prevent these melanomas.
Skin cancers of all types can occur behind the ears and the tops of hands and feet. Use sunscreen in those areas as well. And remember that clouds only block 20% of the dangerous UV light, so use sunscreen if you plan to be outside for more than a few minutes.
Pearlmutter Cancer Center researchers recently discovered an enzyme (FUT8) that plays a role in melanoma metastasis (spread) by helping transfer sugars to proteins.
Given a choice, diagnostic imaging tests using MRI or ultrasound are preferable over a CT scan. The reason? CT’s use large amounts of radiation, which increases cancer risk (although only slightly). Ask your doctor whether the MRI or ultrasound can be used in your situation.
In the future, matching a person’s DNA (gene profile) to a specific drug will be routine. An example is the Cleveland Clinic study that found that men with a hormone-based genetic variation did not respond to standard drugs used to treat prostate cancer. They did better with an individualized treatment.
Ongoing research that measures DNA mutations in a patient’s tumor then uses a computer to help match hundreds of cancer drugs, results from years of genetic research, and combinations of drugs with the patient’s mutation. This individualized approach is giving new hope to some patients who otherwise would not be successfully treated. A similar use of individualized therapy is the approach advocated (and used) by complementary “functional” medicine doctors for decades, although it is just now being investigated by scientists. It is “immunotherapy,” which uses the patient’s natural immune system response to eliminate cancer cells. An example is the use of “tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.” A patient’s tumor is analyzed to detect genetic mutations. At the same time, doctors isolate from the patient’s blood special lymphocytes (white blood cells responsible for going into a tumor) that will attack the patient’s cancer. They replicate these tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and by the billions and then return them to the patient’s body where they quickly attack the cancer. The method shows remarkable promise, although much work remains to make this a commonly used procedure.
Curcumin (a polyphenol extract from turmeric spice): 1. Starves cancer cells by preventing them from getting glucose; 2. Is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which is the initial cause for most chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease; 3. Prevents cancer cells from promoting (triggering) “angiogenesis” (the growth of new blood vessels) that cancer cells need to get adequate nutrition. Curcumin thus inhibits the growth and spread of cancers; 4. Helps lower the ATP (energy) available to the cancer cell; 5. Studies repeatedly confirm curcumin’s ability to prevent colorectal tumors by decreasing the precancerous areas in the colon, increasing the death rate of cancerous cells by apotosis, and decreasing the cancer’s growth and spread; 6. Animal studies show giving curcumin to animals with implanted hormone-negative breast cancer tumors shrinks the tumors and helps destroy the cancer cells; 7. Curcumin slows the growth of prostate cancer cells through various mechanisms; 8. Curcumin helps restrain or reverse other cancer types by eliminating stem cells, decreasing inflammatory markers that promote cancer growth and spread, interrupts the DNA inside cells that promote a normal cell to change into a cancerous cell. Curcumin is not absorbed well; therefore take a “bioavailable” form that absorbs up to eight times better than plain curcumin. Take two bioavailable capsules a day.
Pomegranate (seeds, peel, fruit) contains several polyphenol antioxidants, including tannins and flavonoids. Pomegranate extract helps prevent a normal cell from mutating into a cancerous cell, inhibits the cancer cell from replicating, inhibits angiogenesis (new blood vessels that feed the cancer), and inhibits the cancer’s spread.
Animal and human studies show pomegranate extract can help prevent the development of prostate cancer, breast cancer (hormone-dependent), colon cancer, and lung cancer, and the extract can help inhibit these cancers from spreading if they do develop. (See article by Hong MY, et al, Pomegranate.) Adams LS, et al, “Pomegranate ellagitannin-derived compounds exhibit antiproliferative and antiaromatase activity in breast cancer cells in vitro,” Cancer Prev Res, 2010, 3(1), Pages 108-113. Take one standardized capsule containing about 500 mg of the complete pomegranate plant daily.
A 2017 study showed that coffee, regular or decaf, could help prevent several types of cancer. Scientists speculate this is because of coffee’s phytochemicals, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.