Cancer is both a scourge and a source of terror for most people. Understandably, the apparently random occurrence and uncontrollable progression of the disease frighten people a lot. But cancer is a disease, and like any other disease, there is much logic to the seeming confusion.
Science has made great strides in the study of the nature and potential cures for cancer. Most of that knowledge has however mostly been to clarify the two questions:
- What is cancer (i.e. the fundamental problem with the cancerous cell or tissue)? and
- When is it present (i.e. the consequences of its occurrence)?
One of the greatest gaps in current knowledge relates to the bit between the two questions above, i.e. how cancer develops from a “relatively minor problem” of loss of control at the cellular level to the full-blown clinical manifestations of the disease. There was a time when it was felt that this bit was also reasonably understood, but that view is now not as widely shared, as the ability to do very much about an uncomfortably large number of cancers still eludes us.
Actually, cancer is not just one disease, but a large collection of illnesses that sometimes seem to bear no similarity to one another. For example, many cancers arise out of inherited predispositions (usually the absence of certain genes or substances in parts of the body, but also sometimes the undue presence or amount of some genes or substances). Of course, this is an almost simplistic view of one category of cancers, but I believe that a degree of simplification is actually helpful to help prevent our getting lost in the complexity and jargon inherent in the study and treatment of cancers.
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Many cancers however develop out of or due to the conscious choices we make, mostly when we are not fully aware of the real risks involved in those activities. Some very well known examples of this are smoking (linked to lung and other cancers) and a sexually transmitted disease like HPV (human papilloma virus) now firmly linked with cervical cancer.
“Maybe the fear is that we are less than we think we are, when actually we are much, much more.”
The bright light in this otherwise rather gloomy scenario is that there is a huge amount that we can do as individuals to prevent many cancers from starting, or indeed to slow down the development (i.e. advance or progression) of those that have started. This latter is still not as straightforward as we would perhaps like, as there are cancers that do not seem as amenable to positive lifestyle changes as others. But at the very least, any positive lifestyle modifications will surely add to the individual’s overall quality of life, even in the face of the cancer juggernaut.
In simple terms, personal steps to deal with the development of cancer can be regarded in 4 categories:
- Good, harmonious nutrition
- Adequate ‘respect’ for the body and its processes
- Positive attitude to cancer when it is discovered and its treatment
- Strong and healthy liver
Each one of these will be explored in greater detail in further discussions, but I will briefly touch on them here.
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- Take good nutrition: It is necessary but not enough for food to be rich in nutrients and be theoretically balanced; if it turns out to be more in quantity (for example) than the body requires for the set of functions that it normally performs, then that nutrition is inherently harmful to the body. The immediate consequence will be overweight, and in certain cases, this can lead to some cancers.
- Treat the body with ‘respect’: Many of us spend huge amounts of effort and time on our bodies in order to look good and pleasing to ourselves and others. But beneath that facade, we show the body precious little respect. For example, the amount of alcohol some people assault their bodies with is such that it is only a matter of time before trouble literally brews. Another example is smoking, and a third is undue exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight).
- Have a positive inner attitude: In many instances when cancer is diagnosed, we teeter from one extreme of total and utter despair to the other extreme of wanting to “fight it”. I am not suggesting that we simply roll over when cancer is announced. Quite the contrary; I am of the view that the better approach could be one of “respectful acknowledgment” of the nature and damage that it can wreak. I believe that with such a frame of mind, there is a better chance of maintaining better physiological balance, with the potential that life may become longer and of greater overall quality. I am reminded of the fact that some of the greatest military defeats in human history have resulted from insufficient acknowledgment of the destructive capability of the opposition, especially when coupled with too much faith in one’s own military strength.
- Maintain a healthy liver: Medical science is slowly beginning to recognise the importance of the liver to the overall ability to cope with and sometimes slow the progression of various cancers. This is a particularly complex subject that will be explored more fully in another discussion. But I believe that the liver’s role deserves special separate mention, not just as an element of good nutrition.