Nothing Causes Cancer

First, what is cancer?

Cancer zodiacYour body is made up of cells – tiny living machines that make up all the tissues of your body. Skin, bone, muscle, all of you – it’s all made up of cells.

In each cell there is something called DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid if you wanna impress your friends.  DNA contains the instructions that determine everything about you, like how tall you are, how long you will live, how close together your eyes are, how many teeth you have – every detail! The DNA also tells the cells what to do and how to behave.

DNA tells the cells to live for a while, then divide, then die.

Lets take cell A.

When cell A divides, it creates a new cell – we’ll call this cell B. Then cell A can go ahead and die. Cells cant live forever you know! DNA tells them to die off.

Then cell B lives for a while, then divides to create cell C, and cell B dies.

Cell C lives for a while, then splits to create cell D – and cell C dies. This process is governed by DNA and continues your whole life.

Ok now here’s where cancer comes in. Pay attention because we’re going to put an end to this silly idea some people have that everything causes cancer.

Lets say your cells are sitting around happily dividing and dying just as they should. One day, something goes wrong in cell Z. It’s encountered a problem and cannot divide the way it should. Remember it’s DNA that tells cell Z how to divide!

However, sometimes the DNA gets damaged. There are millions of things that can do this, so we cant even begin to make a list. Everything from nuclear radiation to breathing oxygen has the potential to damage DNA.

So when the DNA is damaged in cell Z, it can’t tell the cell how to divide properly. If Z divides improperly, then an improper cell will be formed. This cell is cancer! Sometimes this cancer cell can just sit there and do nothing. This is called “benign cancer”, and is less of a concern. Sometimes this cancer cell can start fighting with the surrounding cells, and wants to take over the body. This is called “malignant cancer”. That’s the cancer you need to watch out for.

But fear not, each of your cells comes with its own “self-destruct button”. This is located – you guessed it – on the DNA.

Now suppose for a moment that the self destruct button gets damaged. Then what? Now the cell cannot divide correctly or kill itself before its too late. Thankfully, the immune system comes in and kills the new, weird cell that might end up invading the body. However, what if the cancer cell looks too much like the normal cells? That’s when the immune system completely skips over the cancer cell and allows it to invade the body.

Cancer bossAnd that’s the story of how cancer happens!

It all comes down to what damages the DNA. Once again, millions and millions of things can either damage DNA, or allow DNA to be more easily damaged. Things like exposure to car exhaust, air pollution, cigarette smoke, barbecued meat, arsenic, depleted uranium, depression, alcohol, chlorofluorocarbons, radon, x-rays, radiation, bug spray, obesity, lack of exercise, sunlight, stress, drugs, medicines, benzene, asbestos, aspartame, D isomer amino acids, trans fats, pesticides, germs, viruses, or breathing oxygen.

How does breathing oxygen damage the DNA?

Oxygen has an unstable pair of electrons. When it enters our body, one of these electrons can break free, and the oxygen molecule will then go around the body trying to take an electron away from another atom. The atom it steals from will then try to reunite itself with an electron by stealing one from another atom. That atom steals from another, and so on. This process goes on and on, and the electrons being swung around everywhere tend to cause damage. Imagine swinging a morning star / spiked ball and chain around in a china shop. Things are going to get broken.

If the damage happens to the cell, the DNA simply tells it to repair itself.  No biggie. But if the damage happens to the DNA? Well there you go. Possible cancer formation.

Now lest you think I’ve forgotten, the title of this post is “Nothing Causes Cancer”. What do I mean by that?

free radicalIf breathing air caused cancer, we’d all have cancer right now.

Breathing air increases your risk FOR cancer. It does not CAUSE cancer. And that same thing is true with damn near everything in the world. It’s the reason why you find some people who smoke for 40 years and still haven’t developed lung cancer. If their risk before they began smoking was 0, and smoking increases your risk by 10,000%, then 10,000% times 0 is still 0. Some people simply have incredible genetic resiliency. Others do not.

So why do we say it causes cancer then? In English, we say “smoking causes cancer” simply because it’s a shortcut and easier to say. “Causes” and “Cancer” both begin with the “kah” sound followed by the “s” sound. The words “Causes Cancer” fit well together. Peter Parker, Clark Kent, and Louis Lane all agree – the repetition of sounds tend to make a name more catchy. That’s why we don’t correctly say “smoking increases your risk for cancer”. Too many words and syllables, plus people the people who want you to stop smoking really want you to stop smoking. CAUSES hits with a more case-closed sense than “increases your risk for”, which invites debate that you may still not get cancer.

Anything at all that is capable of damaging the DNA is also capable of causing (read: increasing your risk for) cancer – even sunlight.  So are you going to stay inside during the day and live like a vampire?

The goal should be to avoid the most obvious things that cause the largest increases in cancer rates. Anyone can stop smoking, which leads to a significant increase in cancer rates and is easy to avoid. Breathing oxygen and exposure to sunlight often cannot be avoided, and lead to a very small increase in cancer rates. So it’s not even worth the effort.

AntioxidantAs far as preventing cancer is concerned, this simply comes from avoiding the most obvious risks, as well as eating plenty of fruits and veggies because they have antioxidants, which help contain the run-away electrons (called “free radicals”) that cause all the damage. Exercise makes the body stronger, and a stronger body handles potential cancer issues long before it can become a serious problem.

Being “Linked To Cancer” Doesn’t Mean Anything

Another popular term we need to touch on is “linked to”. Sometimes to avoid coming off too strongly and provoking someone to ask questions, the term “linked to” is used.

Did you know that prostitutes and violent crime are linked to schools? It’s true. As the number of schools goes up, the number of prostitutes and violent crimes go up. There’s a positive link between the two.

I’m of course using the most ridiculous examples here to show how faulty the conclusions can be. Obviously schools do not promote prostitution and violent crime. If 1,000 people live in a town, you may find 1 or 2 schools, and only a little crime.  But if 10,000 people live in a town, we’ll of course will find 5 or 6 schools, and many more people committing crimes. This is because as the number of people increase, both schools and crime will increase. One does not cause the other. If you google “correlation does not imply causation”, you’ll find a nice series of easy-to-understand articles explaining this in further detail.

We now have more processed foods than ever. We also have more cancer than ever. What does prove? Absolutely nothing. We use shampoo more than ever. We listen to music more than ever. We sit in chairs more than ever. We wear ear rings more than ever. We read books more than ever. To imply that these things are linked to cancer simply because cancer rates and these things have both increased is just nuts.

So the next time you hear something like “fried foods cause cancer”, don’t let it scare you.

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1 Response to Nothing Causes Cancer

  1. Pingback: Ultimate Diet Guide, Part 3: Fats and Cholesterol | Sense and Wellness

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