5 things to know about cancer

I have been greatly touched by friends who have battled cancer over the years. Some are still fighting the good fight others have won it and sadly others lost it. In their memory I hope that this post serves as a general introduction to cancer origin and progression.

1. Cancer is not a single disease.

Cancer is a collection of diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and invasion of other tissues. There are more than 100 types of cancer with different levels of aggression and responsiveness to treatment. Thereby there is not a single silver bullet to treat all cancers.

The American Cancer Society

2. Cancer is caused by accumulation of mutations.

The underlying cause of cancer is the accumulation of multiple changes to our genetic code (DNA) referred as mutations. The accumulation of these mutations causes cells to become unresponsive to cell growth-governing functions thus allowing for uncontrolled growth.   Uncontrolled cell growth, in turn, further facilitates the accumulation of other mutations that may cause cancer to develop into more aggressive forms. 

3. Family history and environmental factors can increase risk of cancer.

Family history of cancer and environmental factors such as smoking, heavy drinking and STDs can predispose/cause someone to develop cancer.

Family History

Family history of cancer may be due to a genetic predisposition.  Genetic predisposition refers to an inherited mutation(s) that may predispose someone to develop a disease.

Breast cancer is a classic example of genetic predisposition.  Studies show that in the general population about 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point, however, it is estimated that between 45% to 65% of woman with a pre-existing mutation will develop breast cancer.  The culprits are the breast cancer related genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Both of these genes are involved in DNA damage repair. Mutations in these genes may adversely affect the normal function of these genes allowing for the accumulation of additional mutations that may lead to cancer. Men and woman with mutations in these genes have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

For more information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 visit:

National Cancer Institude

Environment

Environmental factors may increase the risk of cancer.  Substances that cause mutation that may lead to cancer are called carcinogens.  Exposure to such substance can lead to cancer. A great example is cigarettes smoke. According to the CDC cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 are carcinogens. Over time, the constant exposure to these carcinogens causes the accumulation of mutations that eventually will lead to lung cancer. That is why a smoker is 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker.

4. Cancer formation is a multi-stage process that can take decades to develop.

Cancer develops in a multi-step process that can take decades to complete. Thereby most cancers affect people later in life. For example, in order for a cell to become cancerous, it must overcome biological safeguards such as growth control checkpoints and cell-death inducing signals that prevent cancer formation. In addition to these biological safeguards cancer cells must also cope with environmental challenges such as nutrient deprivation and lack of oxygen that restrict their growth and ability to invade other tissues. Moreover, cancer like infectious disease has to evade the immune response.

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Natural selection drives these processes. Natural selection is an evolutionary process in which the fittest individuals are selected; in the case of cancer individuals are cells. Thus, natural selection requires diversity of traits within a population and the selection of those traits that are beneficial. This diversity arises mostly through mutations. Most mutations are either bad or neutral. However, in some rare cases a mutation may give cells an advantage over other non-mutated cells. In cancer, a beneficial mutation translates into the ability to proliferate independently of cell growth inhibitors or the ability to secrete signals that will trigger angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) and allow cells to invade surrounding tissues.

It is thought that early in cancer development cells acquire what is called a “mutator phenotype”. This means that cancer cells acquire new mutations at a faster pace than healthy cells.  This increases the pool of new traits and the chances for a beneficial trait that can enable cancer progression.

5. Cancer treatments are different.

Given that there is not a single type of cancer. Cancers respond differently to cancer therapies. For example, a drug that may be effective treating prostate cancer may not necessarily be effective treating breast cancer or leukemia.

National Cancer Institude
American Cancer Society
MD Anderson Cancer Center

If you have a family history of cancer do not be afraid, talk to your physician. Early detention will greatly improve treatment success. Stop if you are engaging in cancer causing behaviors. Life is worth living to the fullest and cancer is not worth it! If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are undergoing treatment, please remember the words of Christ:

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Trust in Jesus! He loves you more than anything in this world and keep the fight!

Please consider supporting cancer research and visit:

Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation.

God Bless.

About the Big Bang and Fundamentalists

The recent debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, a young earth creationist supporter, reminded me of something that St. Thomas Aquinas said:

“First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dares to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

In other words, some fundamentalist interpretation of scripture contradicts our observation of the universe and their staunch literalistic interpretation of the Bible may be a stumbling block for unbelievers, closing faith to them.

God is truth and cannot be deceived or deceive. As Sir Francis Bacon said: “God wrote two books. One is Holy Scripture and the other is nature”. They cannot contradict each other. One reveals how God created the Universe and the other reveals why God created the Universe. They do not oppose each other, but complement each other in reviling the beauty and power of our Creator. It is amazing that not a hundred years ago, scientists like Fred Hoyle mocked the primordial atom theory, the Big Bang Theory, first proposed by Fr. George Lemeitre, a Jesuit priest, as nothing but religious propaganda.

Einstein thought that Fr. Lemeitre’s theory was the most beautiful explanation of creation once he looked at the evidence that support Fr. Lemeitre theory.

The key here is openness to evidence. On one had it seems to me that staunch atheists refuse to look beyond their biases about religion and look closer to the cosmological and philosophical evidence for the existence of God on the other hand
Fundamentalists who hold a literalistic interpretation of the Bible refuse to see irrefutable evidence about the age of the universe. Making their faith look un-reasonable to non-believers and in the process alienating people who are searching for truth.

The result of such public debate between these opposing views is that it foments a caricatured notion that there is no place for reason in faith and no place for faith in reason. The history of science as it was developed in the West begs to disagree with such ill informed notion.

“But you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight.”

Wisdom 11:20

This verse from the book of Wisdom, often quoted by St. Augustine in the third century, greatly influenced many thinkers during the early and late Middle Ages. It reveals something about creation. The act of creation was not arbitrary but carefully designed “by measure and number and weight” and thus allowed for the investigation of the world because it argues that the world was created by reason and thereby can be understood by reason. This line of thinking led to the creation of the universities, the scientific method and many scientific fields by the Catholic Church, which ultimately led to the scientific revolution.

Fundamentalist creationists staunch advocacy in favor of young earth creation can be a stumbling block for many because it refuses to accept the evidence and change its position. Perhaps St. Thomas anticipated young creationist postures when he caution about rigid Bible interpretation.

Faith properly understood is reasonable and beautiful because it brings us closer to the good, the beautiful and the true.