Cancer cells are your cells! Your body made the cancer. It’s not a pathogen or external organism (although these may have a role to play as we’ll discuss more), it’s your own body. If you accept this as true, then the reverse is also true. Your body can identify & target these cells, remove them, heal, and recover from cancer. I don’t know about you but I find this fact super empowering. In a healthy body, cancer cells will be properly recognized by the immune system, they will be targeted and destroyed, and removed through your detoxification pathways. Furthermore, you will not be creating a “warm & cozy” habitat for cancer to take hold and grow. So when you’re facing a cancer diagnosis OR doing your best to prevent cancer, your job is to take steps to keep your body targeting cancer cells and removing them. How do you do this? In previous posts I’ve shared how both Digestion & Detoxification are two critical pieces to this process. There is a 3rd and equally important piece and it has to do with your Immune System; specifically boosting immunity while lowering inflammation. Let’s take a look at WHY inflammation is such a problem when it comes to cancer.
The Inflammation Cancer Connection
I believe there are 2 primary reasons chronic inflammation is such an important underlying factor in the growth and spread of cancer.
First, Inflammation Leads to Tumor Growth
According to research over the last couple decades, it is now better understood and more widely accepted that many cancers arise from sites of infection, chronic irritation, and inflammation. In chronic inflammatory conditions, immune cells produce highly reactive molecules, which can damage DNA. Damaged DNA is one of the ways cancer starts. Inflammation also stimulates cells to divide. Keep in mind that cancer cells are rapidly dividing. Researchers from MIT found that when inflammation occurred periodically in short bursts, like you might see in the case of acute inflammation, there was not any evidence of cell mutation (change) or damage. BUT when the inflammatory bouts occurred within a few days of each other, like what you might see in the case of chronic inflammation, there was a significant increase in cell mutations. (study) These mutated cells continue to divide and grow until eventually a tumor is formed. Another problem is that the environment inside of a tumor is largely organized by inflammatory molecules. These molecules actually participate in the process of cancer growth, survival, and spread. When we take steps to target & lower inflammation throughout the body, this translates into a substantial reduction in the development, growth, and spread of cancer (study). This belief is not new. As far back as 1863, Rudolf Virchow, a German physician & researcher (now known as the “father of modern pathology”) hypothesized that the origin of cancer developed at sites of chronic inflammation; he called it chronic irritation. He believed that certain “irritants” in combination with tissue injury created inflammation which enhanced cell multiplication. (study) Just to put this into perspective for you, here are some well-accepted examples of when infections or chronic inflammation creates an increased risk for a specific cancer(s):
Irritable Bowel Disease (Colitis or Chron’s) – Colon Cancer
Hepatitis – Liver Cancer
Pancreatitis – Pancreatic Cancer
H. Pylori overgrowth – Stomach Cancer
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) – Ovarian, Cervical, Anal Cancers
Second, A Distracted Immune System Is Not Targeting Cancer Cells
I would also argue that if your body is pre-occupied with fighting chronic infections, or heavy metals, or toxins, your immune system will spend all of its energy and resources attempting to “manage” these irritants rather than identify and target mutant or damaged cells. When the immune system is distracted, burdened, or weakened, cancer cells can sneak by. They can set up shop & start to grow in your body. So our job then is to look at these systems in our body and optimize them the best we can. Remember, the empowering piece here is that if your body created these cells, your body can also eliminate these cells and heal.
Why Are You Inflamed
First we need to look at the causes of inflammation and attempt to stop it at the source. There are many reasons you could have chronic inflammation. Some of the reasons I alluded to above. You might have an old injury that never properly healed and continues to flare-up. You might have a chronic infection; some common ones include gut infections (parasites, bacterial overgrowth like H. pylori), sexually transmitted infections (like HPV), or viral infections like Epstein Barr or Lyme. You might have a burden of toxic substances in your body from heavy metals, pesticides, or air pollutants. You might even have a diet that is pro-inflammatory; high sugar, refined carbs, processed foods, & bad fats. Even obesity is going to increase the level of inflammation in your body. When you add smoking or inactivity or chronic stress to the list, the inflammation continues to climb. With so many contributing factors, it’s pretty easy to see why chronic inflammation has really become our modern-day epidemic.
What To Do About It
The good news here is that there is A LOT you can do to lower inflammation in your body. Once you understand why it’s important plus all the ways it can be caused, you can take steps to control it. And ultimately lower your risk for cancer. Here is where I suggest you start. All 5 of these steps are important so start with whichever one feels the most doable for you and then gradually build from there.
Add Daily Movement and Activity – preferably outside where you can also get some sunshine & fresh air
Lower Stress and bring in as many stress management tools as you can
Reduce your toxic burden and consider being tested (& treated) for heavy metals
Work with an integrative or functional provider to both identify and treat chronic infections
Take Home Message
The more we understand the causes of cancer, the more we have control over it. Taking steps to both lower and eliminate chronic inflammation will go a long way to reduce your risk for cancer as well as help your body recover from cancer. As always, start with your diet, your lifestyle, and your stress. Then, take a pro-active approach to identifying and eliminating other causes of inflammation in your body; toxins, irritants, infections, etc. For more articles like this delivered straight to your Inbox every week, Join The Tribe. And for personalized guidance to both reduce inflammation in your body and build a cancer recovery plan, contact me for a FREE Planning Session.