A simplified answer is that cancer is a disease that occurs when cells divide rapidly and in an uncontrolled manner. Cancer cells do not behave as healthy cells do. They are able to divide quickly and evade the body’s control mechanisms for regulating cell division. Cancer cells also escape the body’s natural detection abilities for identification of faulty cells. This means that they live much longer than they should and are able to replicate, creating more and more cancer cells. But where do these cancer cells come from in the first place?
Cancer cells are the product of normal cells that have genetic mutations in which the cell’s DNA becomes damaged or altered. The development of cancer cells is a process that takes time and occurs in multiple stages. The first stage, called initiation, involves genetic mutation of the healthy cell by an initiator. In this stage, DNA change occurs, making a once healthy cell more susceptible to the next stage. The second stage, promotion, involves the unregulated reproduction of cells. The damaged cells bypass the body’s usual process for creation of new cells and replicate quickly, without limitation, ultimately leading to tumors. The final step in creation of cancer cells, and ultimately malignant cancer, is called progression. This step involves changes in the DNA of the cells that favor rapid growth, capacity to invade nearby tissues, and ability spread to other locations, or metastasize.
Several known causes of DNA damage have been identified such as ultraviolet rays from natural and artificial sunlight, chemicals that are harmful to cells called carcinogens, chronic inflammation, and invasion by viruses or bacteria. Since cancer is a progressive disease, with multiple steps and stages, it is reasonable to predict that preventing or stopping any of the stages of cancer cell development will halt the progression of the disease. Cancer chemoprevention (prevention with drugs or compounds) and chemotherapy (therapy with drugs or compounds), have thus developed into a highly-specialized, top-priority field of study. Current cancer therapies involve the use of drugs, vitamins, and other compounds to reduce the risk of development of cancer and to stop or slow its development. Some mechanisms include:
- Intervention with cellular communications
- Modulation of signaling pathways in cancer development
- Promotion of cell death (apoptosis)
- Suppression of cancer cell proliferation
- Reduction of inflammation
- Free radical scavenging (antioxidants)
- Inhibition of enzymes involved in the carcinogenesis process
- Reduction of expression of genes involved in the carcinogenesis process
Much research has been conducted to evaluate the effects of dietary factors on the risk of developing cancer. Numerous dietary agents and pharmacologically active natural products have been found to play a role in cancer prevention or reduction, although this role is not yet clearly established. Several dietary vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring phytochemicals and herbs exhibit anti-cancer properties. The following ingredients have been found to have at least one of the aforementioned mechanisms of action:
- Green Tea Extract
- Turkey Tail Mushroom
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12
- Pantothenic Acid
Preventive and natural medicine is gaining strength as an approach to cancer therapy and other diseases. Pharmacological treatments, along with dietary supplementation with vitamins and phytochemicals, show promising evidence that there is a cure to this terrible disease. Although research is ongoing, it is likely that many of these naturally occurring compounds may be utilized to prevent and even help treat various types of cancer in the near future.
Written by Nick Micciche & Devan Patel