Technology is Making a Difference in Cancer

I monitor research and progress on many chronic diseases including cancer. A lot of good stuff is happening with cancer and this post intends to bring you up to speed. But first let’s start with a little background so the “happenings” will make sense.

Background  

Your body has HOW MANY cells? Are you sitting down?

A group of biologists set out to calculate the number of cells in the human body. The estimate is 37.2 trillion cells. Each cell has 23 pairs (46) of chromosomes, two each contributed by each of your parents.  Which ones you get, by the way, is totally random.

Each chromosome has between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. Get out your calculator. Go to this link from Stanford at the Tech Museum to learn more about chromosomes.

Your body is constructed of protein and one job of genes is to encode the protein. That is a lot of protein encoding genes carrying the DNA that makes you who you are. Your DNA is a combination of a portion of the genetic makeup of your parents and those genes instruct the construction and maintenance of your body.

Could work like a clock but might not.  There are also gene mutations and/or variations that might or might not be troublesome, health wise. With many trillions of genes some things are bound to go wrong. But there is a plan to handle that.

Cell damage

Every second things change in your body. Just breathing and moving around (being alive), environmental toxins, and poor dietary decisions do damage to your cells and their DNA.  All those damaged cells and DNA need to be repaired or replaced.

Further, all your cells wear out on a regular basis and are replaced by new ones. In other words no one cell lasts long. The new cells are dependent on your DNA to assure the replacements are exact duplicates – which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the condition of the cell being duplicated.

It is the DNA mutations, the cell repair/elimination process, along with the duplication process gone awry that is at the heart of cancer.  All three going on at the same time.

The plan when things go wrong.

Because things are guaranteed to go wrong, your body has an immune system designed to “see” damage and take steps to repair or, if necessary, eliminate the cell and replace it with a proper cell. Learn much more about your immune system here.

Some people have active and healthy immune systems that are more likely to catch and eliminate a cancer cell before it gets out of hand and replicates itself into a tumor.

Without early detection tumors develop a life of their own, duplicating some really bad cells at breakneck speed, managing to hide from your immune system and using up all the glucose (sugar) energy your body can make available. This post will help you understand that even better. This explains why the first symptom of cancer is often weight loss. Undeterred, cancer can literally eat you alive.  .

What’s new in cancer treatment ?

For a long time cancer treatment was limited to surgery to cut out a tumor. Then along came chemotherapy and radiation intended to murder the “parent” tumor but tending to leave “daughter” cells in “hiding” – in other words, borrowing time.  Then with the advent of the “human genome project” major cancer treatment centers like Sloan Kettering and others are now completely sequencing the DNA in tumors and working with pharmaceutical companies to create treatments targeted to the DNA mutations found in the tumors.

Cancer cells always contain genetic mutations, sometimes only a few, other times thousands.

Cancer is one word but it isn’t just one disease. In a way, each cancer tumor is a disease unique to its DNA mutations. Where the cancer is located, pancreas or kidney or brain as examples, is sometimes less important than its unique genetic mutations. Advances in technology made possible by the human genome project are making cancer treatment a new world.

All these technological advances have required enormous computer power and amounts of data around patient DNA.  Researchers perform clinical trial after trial with existing cancer patients to determine which treatments work and why, with the intent of advancing the “standard of care” employed by oncologists across the country and the world.

Now (finally) a lot of work goes on developing “immunotherapies”, helping the immune system see the cancer and attack it. Real progress!

But perhaps the most exciting technological advance will be the ability to identify cancer DNA through a blood test. Seems that cancer sheds DNA into the blood stream and technology is now making it possible to identify that DNA. This not only informs the doctors about if/how your cancer is continuing to mutate in its struggle to survive (and adjust your treatment accordingly) but also makes it possible to see a cancer before it becomes an advanced tumor.

Researchers believe they will be able to catch and stop the development of a tumor before it can even be seen. In other words, ward off tumor development. The earlier your cancer is identified, the greater the chance of your long term survival.

This potential is enormously important because some tumors, pancreatic as an example, are asymptomatic until they have reached extreme, sometimes impossible to successfully treat stages of growth.

Technological advances are expensive and cancer wins the award for high cost of research and treatment.  Why?  Because the treatment often is never over but is just delaying the inevitable, ongoing battles as cancer cells continue to mutate in their quest to survive.

Should you just cross your fingers and hope for the best?

As the army used to say, “Hope is not a plan”. Your immune system was designed to do its job very effectively, to identify things that are wrong and fix them. Your contribution is to keep your immune system as healthy as possible.

Those with persistent body inflammation, chronic conditions including autoimmune, persistent introductions of chemical toxins and medications are putting an enormous load on their immune system while failing to provide the nutrition (vitamins and minerals) needed to keep it healthy.

To the largest degree your contribution is in your lifestyle and diet.  At the most basic level, your diet should include whole, unprocessed meat protein, fruit, and vegetables and any supplements you obviously need. The damage people do to their bodies and immune systems through diet usually revolves around the processed food substitutions available in sacks, boxes, and bottles on the grocery store shelves. These are foods that carry extreme amounts of sugar and minimal vitamins and minerals.

You can know something is wrong when you have “symptoms”. And so the next error we make is treating symptoms with medication, either prescriptions or off the pharmacy shelf, instead of figuring out what is causing the symptoms. As already said, we are all different. What food or chemical causes me no problem may be troublesome for you.

Once you have cancer you can also help with diet, minimizing consumption of the one and only fuel source your cancer cells can use – sugar. This post, Can We Eat to Starve Cancer, will help you. This post, Prevent and Treat Cancer, introduces the concept of alternative cancer treatments in greater depth.  Meat and vegetables have the least sugar, fruit and all processed food especially including “sweets” have a lot.

My book, It’s All about the Food, can help you with a plan for healthy eating. There are other books and internet sources to help with autoimmune diseases and dietary strategies to help with your cancer battle.

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