The beginning of cancer is associated with specific mutations that lead to unrestrained growth of the primary neoplasm. There is a tendency for extremely small pieces of the tumor to detach and progress through the subsequent steps of metastasis (when tumor cells migrate to other locations in the body). Stopping the spread of cancer to secondary distal sites must be prevented if possible (and it is possible).
The good news is that cancer cells are not autonomous, they are dependant on some factors we can influence.
Cancer growth depends so much on the surrounding microenvironment
In fact, several studies indicate that tumor development relies on a continuous cross-talk between cancer cells and their extracellular microenvironments, that is, the tissues immediately adjacent to and outside of the cancer cells. This signaling ‘cross-talk’ is mediated by transmembrane (one side of the membrane to the other) receptors on cancer cells and connective tissue.
The communication between the tumor cells and the surrounding cells — the microenvironment — helps drive the process of tumor progression. So going from normal to benign, benign to malignant, malignant to metastatic is driven not just by what’s happening inside the tumor cell itself but by what’s happening around it!
Can the tissue cells of the body be influenced?
I am sure dear reader that you can see where I am going with this.
In fact, two of the key hallmarks of cancer are dependent on the surrounding microenvironment.
One of these is angiogenesis and the other is invasion and metastasis. Angiogenesis creates the blood vessels that give the tumor its oxygen and nutrient supply. Invasion and metastasis give the tumor the ability to invade into other areas and to travel to different parts of the body. If a cancer cell didn’t have these special characteristics, it would not be able to continue to grow.
My last (and first) post on cancer has a great video on how cancer depends on the environment around it for signals on how to proceed in case you missed it.
Lately, there has been a lot of research pointing to the fact that genes in the body are turned on and off depending on the environment that exists outside of the cell i.e. the cell wall. This is referred to as the science of epigenetics. For example, you may have the inherited gene for diabetes, but it doesn’t get turned on unless you eat a lot of processed carbohydrates. The same mechanics of cell influence is associated with cancer – you can change the microenvironment.
Let’s back up and review the main points I have discussed so far:
1. Cancer can be nurtured by the process of chronic inflammation (inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer).
2. Cancer uses the body’s best intentions to heal itself such through wound healing to make itself stronger at the expense of the body. It disguises itself and adapts like all cells do to survive. The danger here is that cancer cells do not operate within the normal signalling complexes that make up a working relationship between normal cells. It is a cell that has gone rogue and is no longer listening to the ‘master commander’ in the body, the central intelligence that directs the many thousands of body processes that are going on in any given moment. It refuses to die when instructed to.
3. These signals from the body to the cancer cells can be moderated and influenced by the environment (tissue) immediately adjacent to it.
4. The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and directs cellular metabolism (with or without oxygen). It is a major key to the ‘cancer answer’ as it is involved in cell division and also cell death.
5. Angiogenesis helps the tumor by creating blood vessels to shunt in oxygen and nutrients for growth.
Watch a TED talk video below on the subject of ‘Can we Eat to Starve Cancer?’ by Dr. William Li. It is fascinating and new approach to cancer therapy using foods to alter angiogenesis.
Hypoxia (low oxygen) and tissue acidity in cancer cells
Low cellular oxygen is a common characteristic of the microenvironment of solid tumors and is an important component of the growth of tumor cells. Most importantly, this microenvironment of solid tumors contains regions of both poor oxygenation and high acidity. Growing evidence from clinical and experimental studies points to a fundamental role for low levels of oxygenation and an acidic environment in metastatic progression.
Also, when there is a prolonged deprivation of adequate oxygen supply to the cancer cells, there is an alteration of gene expression.
In the next post I will discuss cellular respiration and the acid/alkaline tissue balance and what we can do to influence the factors that suppress cancer cells.
Step by step we will be able to understand cancer better and discover natural ways that we can alter and prevent cancer progression using scientific research, experience and common sense. You do have the power to change outcomes.
Please stay with me in this series and feel free to comment below.
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