Doctors know but seldom tell us that mutant cells exist in our body all the time. This is normal and should not alarm us at all for our bodies are equipped to fight the growth of these genetically changed cells. Any time changes take place in the genes of a normal cell, enzymes that exist in our bodies, recognize the change, and repair it back to a normal cell immediately. Most of the time mutated cells do not affect us as they never develop into cancerous cells. In fact mutated cells are killed by the body’s immune system all the time. Even if the cancer cell is overlooked by our immune system it does not necessarily mean that we will develop cancer. Cancer occurs when cells do not die but instead sprout to form thick clusters of mutant cells known commonly as a tumor. However, it still does not mean you have cancer.
Like all other diseases cancer too follows a specific procedure which goes step by step. To understand how cancer is formed first we need to know something about how proteins are made in the body. Through a coded message, genes reflexively instruct cells to form a specific protein. They assign the sequence that amino acids, small building block molecules, should follow in order to make a particular protein. The molecules, which in turn are part of the DNA immediately leave and proceed to the requisite cell which is building up that protein. On receiving instructions amino acids may or may not be able to decode the gene’s message and when they do “read” the instructions they form a necklace like string which is the blue print for that particular protein. The coded instructions from the genes, which are “read” again and again, remain imbedded in the DNA and appear each time when specific proteins have to be built in the body.
The instructions from the genes are important for they help the amino acids to build the protein chain in a particular pattern. There are about twenty kinds of amino acids that combine in all manner of permutations and combinations to make the different kinds of proteins. The different types of amino acids interact differently with each other in accordance with electrostatic forces. What type of amino acids to use and in which sequence determines how the chain will be formed to make an active and healthy protein.
Genes use codes for the protein to split and divide or to grow. If a gene that is carrying the blueprint for a protein involved in cell growth or cell division is mutated then a wrong amino acid might be substituted for the right one. It can also happen that a molecule is omitted altogether. If this happens then the structure and function of the protein will change. In case of such an error in which either the growth of the cell or its division to form a protein is corrupted, cancer can occur. There are many proteins, which can either turn off cell reproduction or turn it on, in accordance with the message read.
The cancer journey
Basically cancer occurs in two stages. One is initiation and the other promotion. Initiation is the first step that can lead to cancer though initiation alone is not fully responsible for creating cancer cells. If proteins go awry then they will promote either unstoppable growth or will stunt growth, either can lead to cancer or even this might not necessarily be so. Cancer does not occur with just one mutation going wrong.
When the body’s DNA gets repaired through enzymes cancer will not occur. It is also rare for a cell mutation to be left unrepaired. Sometimes however, apoptosis occurs, which is actually the precise and clean destruction of a cancerous cell. In either case, whether through repair or destruction, the enzymes incapacitate cancer causing cells within the body and also those introduced even from external sources, like plants or chemicals and synthetics.
A molecule, both natural as well as synthetic, that causes cancer acts like a carcinogen (carcinogens). Gene altering carcinogens are also called ‘mutagens’ and in some cases ‘genotoxins’.
These carcinogens glue themselves permanently to the DNA. When the gene is being ‘read’ for making protein, these carcinogens causes an error in reading, leading to a fault in the protein which in turn then produces cancerous cells in one of the two ways. In other words, a protein that says ‘yes’ to cell division might remain stuck on ‘yes’ allowing cells to divide continuously. In other cancers the faulty protein might encode the cell to “stop” and when it gets stuck on the “stop” cells will stop growing, making no protein at all. However there is evidence to prove that cancer occurs when multiple (five to six) DNA mutations have occurred separately in one cell and not just through one mutation, unless the cancerous cell is inherited in the genes.
The second step in cancer formulation is promotion. There are some molecules produced by herbs that prevent cancer and there are those that can trigger cancer by acting as a stimulant. Sometimes even some synthetic or chemical molecules can stimulate cancerous growth. After initiation has taken place, the mutant, unrepaired cell may just lie low and do nothing for years until such time that it is stimulated to divide. Those ‘oncogenes’ that have been inherited continue to divide inappropriately, sometimes even due to outside factors, resulting in promotion. Estrogen, which is a sex hormone, can also stimulate the growth of breast cancer and therefore the intake of estrogen should be duly monitored and limited. So, estrogen can also be a carcinogen.
A third stage in the growth of cancer is the most dangerous and is known as metastasis. Metastasis can also be provoked similarly as in earlier stages through herbal and synthetic stimulants also, besides internal cell splitting. If metastasis occurs cancer becomes difficult to cure because in metastasis a cancer cell breaks free from a cancerous tumor and lodges itself in a healthy and totally cancer free site. Here it begins to divide into new cancer cells. Cancer spreads rapidly when tumors are malignant and not from benign cancer cells. Sometimes enzymes chew through adjacent healthy tissues to enter the blood vessels and in that case too malignancy occurs.
‘Oncogene’ is the name given to a mutated gene that causes cancer. However different kinds of mutation cause different kinds of cancer. Those people who have a genetic inclination to cancer do so because they probably have already inherited an ‘oncogene’.
Some cancers are age related as it takes time for the many mutations to accumulate in one given cell. Cancer can occur at any age but cancers differ according to which way the cell has grown wrongly.
So, we have cancer of the breast, lung, colon which are the common cancers. In fact cancer can occur in any organ or any part of the body including blood. Also what kind of mechanism has set off cells to continue dividing will allow an understanding of how one kind of breast cancer is different from another kind. A study of what triggered off the division will typically be productive in pursuing the cure, to give the same example one kind of breast cancer is different from another and so the treatment will also be different.
Skin cancers occur differently. Photons, which are highly energized light particles, sometimes act like tiny bullets tearing into a cell and damaging a strand of DNA. Light from any source, including ultraviolet light from the sun, causes skin cancer as cells then receive large amounts of photons. That is how exposure to light in tanning booths can lead to skin cancer.
Treatment of cancer
Drugs for the treatment of cancer can be herbal or synthetic ones. Chemotherapy is used to target the rapidly growing cancer cells so the growth is arrested. Special toxins are used to stun the mechanisms that cause cell division by duplicating DNA. Some of the cancer medicaments have been extracted from plants. The periwinkle herb produces vincristine and vinblastine. These extracted poisons bind themselves to the protein cell tubulin preventing the cell from structuring into dividing mutant cells. When used by experts, ‘poisons’, carefully derived from plants, are often used to treat some kinds of leukemia, Hodgkin’s and also non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Self medication, even with plant extracts is not recommended as it can lead to cancer growth if not correctly extracted or used.
Radiation is the modern treatment for cancer which penetrates cells and attacks the DNA with energized light particles. But both radiation and chemotherapy kill innocent cells and create mean side effects like hair loss, nausea and weakened immunity. New chemotherapeutics, which are designed to help the immune system to attack the mutant cells or those that encourage the tumor to stop using up its own blood supply, are being viewed as alternatives that are perhaps better than traditional chemotherapy or even radiation.
There are certain herb molecules that arrest cancer by neutralizing genotoxins. There are others that prevent the cells in the existing tumors from spreading. Some herbs can even stimulate the immune system into killing the cancerous cells. When used in small dozes some herb extracts accelerate repair to the DNA and to the natural enzymes that attack mutant cells. Inflammation of the tissues is encouraged in cancer treatment as this causes tissue weakness and could arrest the spread of metastases. However a caution is required as the herbal treatment may itself reverse and cause cancer instead of preventing it as cancer is a multi-layered disease.