Cancer: What You Think It Is May Be Just Bad For You

Cancer Is Not Intelligent, Cancer Has No Will

Discussing cancer in general terms often leads to insinuations that Cancer has a motivation. It “overcomes” the immune system. It “figures out” how to defeat a drug. It “is surprisingly good at mutating” into something that can continue to grow in spite of whatever is attacking it. It is “nefarious.” All of these descriptions, and there are hundreds more, imply that Cancer wants something, that it is making an effort, that it has an agenda or goal; the implication is that Cancer has a mind. This is a fallacy of thought that not only makes general discussion more difficult, but it actually can impede treatment and healing.

We must realize something here: as much as cancer sucks, it isn’t evil. To be evil requires a purpose, and cancer has none. It simply is, the way that a sinkhole in the road simply is. Cancer happens, and successful cancers, by which I mean those that are able to thrive and grow as opposed to those that are able to achieve their insidious goals, happen largely by chance. While there is no doubt that recorded cancer rates are on the rise*, each instance of cancer still requires that rare moment when a cellular mutation survives to multiply and its progeny survive to multiply again, continuing the mutated line.

Human bodies are hard wired to resist mutation. There are built-in cellular kill switches that usually work. There are immune system safeguards that attack cells that don’t belong. Natural biology takes care of most potential cancers before they have a chance to become noticeable. But there are easily billions of cellular processes that go on in the human body every day. Even without the heightened exposure to toxins in our modern world, natural radiation from the earth or even solar radiation streaming through the holes in the ozone layer, even without the many aspects of our physical world that might increase the likelihood of cancer happening, there are so many chances for cellular mutation that it is simply going to happen at some point. And as humans age, the chances are going to increase, perhaps exponentially. Eventually one or more mutation is likely to take hold, whether in benign or malignant form. And given time, that mutation will spread.

The fact that there are over 200 identified cancers and that many of them have what are considered “actionable mutations,” meaning that the DNA is able to reveal a specific, targeted treatment option to essentially kill of the cancer cells, indicates that we are all biologically pretty much alike in terms of how our bodies work. These mutations, while still the product of chance, tend to happen in very similar ways. Not always, certainly, and treatments that work for one person may not work for another even when the cancer appears to be the same type. But this is an area where science is on the edge of enormous breakthroughs, spurred on by the understanding of this genetic freak show.

One of the greatest steps in conquering cancer is the appreciation of how little it can be predicted while also embracing the underlying mechanics of why and how it happens. Because of this, medical researchers have been able to re-think their approach to treating cancers, finding ways to target the processes that give rise to these cells and halt their growth. There may be no such thing as a “miracle cure,” and it is highly improbable that there will ever be a one size fits all treatment, but the science is understood and approached in a clearer and more precise way than ever before. Targeted therapies have been around for years, but they are becoming more increasingly used and, even more importantly, the number of actionable mutations that can be targeted is growing.

This does not mean an end to cancer, because each day will continue to bring new cases in new patients. Even with the best preventative care, from nutrition to exercise and clean living in the most pristine environments, as long as humans continue to expand their longevity beyond their prime breeding years, cancers will continue to show up. This is a fact of existence, a byproduct of natural odds, but not the result of a conscious manifesto. Living bodies are great, utterly amazing, but highly imperfect machines. So cancers will continue to happen, just like tornadoes or rock slides or lottery wins. As long as there is a chance, and enough chances and those chances continue to be there, eventually the event will happen. Odds of winning may vary. But it is still good news, because when you know what you are dealing with and really understand it for what it is, doing what needs to be done becomes a whole lot easier.

Moving away from the “miracle cures” that don’t really work; moving away from the notion that there is a single drug or a special food or a lifestyle choice that will magically make cancer disappear; moving away from the conspiracy theory that the medical establishment is squashing a cure because there is too much money in the Cancer Industry; moving away from the many thought variants that offer patients the option to bury their heads rather than proactively understand and participate in their treatment will benefit everyone. In the end, understanding is a powerful tool for healing. Only by really coming to terms with the nature of cancer can one be a part of living through it.

One of my favorite lines about why there are no credible alternative cancer treatments is this: There are no credible alternative treatments because once a treatment has actually been proven to work, it is called “medicine.” This is true regardless of the cost of treatment or how it is administered. If it can be proven to work, the establishment always embraces it. Cancer is a tricky business, all right; but it is tricky because of how readily (and often willfully) it is misunderstood or misrepresented.

Cancer is neither enemy nor friend nor parasite. Cancer merely is. Too often it is deadly, this is true. Too often it is diagnosed too late for meaningful action to be taken. Too often the treatment is uncomfortable and the quality of life is diminished. And not nearly often enough are people prepared to face what is really going on with their bodies and their lives. Anger, fear, trepidation and paranoia infiltrate the widening gaps where reason, purpose and hope should fill the mind. But this does not have to be the way that we approach cancer.

We can embrace the science. We can commit to learning about what cancer really is. And we can move forward, free of the shackles that would be put upon us, knowing that bridges can be built wherever the road gives way.

Note: *Recorded cancer rates are on the rise, but that isn’t all bad.

Whenever a population is growing healthier, the average life expectancy is expected to go up. This has been the case throughout developed and developing countries alike, particularly through the 20 Century and the introduction of modern medicine. Along with longer lifespans, however, there has been a correlating increase in recorded cancer rates. This is directly attributed to an older population.

In the past, most people simply did not live long enough to show signs of cancer. As it is, many healthy people may have cancers without showing symptoms, but they cannot be recorded as patients until such time as the symptoms are noticed. On the other hand, medical science has advanced rapidly in the area of early detection for many cancers and for this reason there has also been an increase in recorded cancers.

Therefore, in an era of greater longevity and of improved detection, there are two key factors driving an increase in recorded cancer rates among a population that is overall healthier than previous generations. While there are potentially more environmental concerns with regard to exposure to potential carcinogens and/or mutagens in this modern world, increased cancer rates across a population should not generate fear when, in fact, they are simply a natural byproduct of living longer and having access to better science.

Originally published at on January 6, 2015.

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