Does Inflammation Cause Cancer?
Could fatigue, weight gain, or infections that don’t go away be a sign you’re at risk for cancer?
The list of things that cause cancer is so wide and varied it’s just about impossible to keep track of it all. From breathing chemicals we can’t see or smell, to indulging in some of our favorite fried comfort foods, there are carcinogens bombarding us all day every. As this assault continues, inflammation builds up and becomes chronic, which creates the perfect environment for cancer to take root, grow and run rampant.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation has become a household word, but few of us understand what it is and how it’s a risk factor for cancer. There are 2 types of inflammation – short term and chronic – and it’s important to understand the differences between them.
Short term inflammation is a normal response to injury, where damaged tissue sends out a chemical signal for the inflammatory response to start. White blood cells then make substances that cause cells to divide and grow, which rebuilds the tissue and helps repair the injury. This type of inflammation is localized to just the area of injury and ends once the tissue is healed.
Chronic inflammation has been known to cause cancer since Virchow discovered it in 1863. And though the concept isn’t new, our understanding of it is. Chronic inflammation can start even when there is no apparent injury to tissue, continue with no known cause, and it is unpredictable as to when it ends. It can be caused by obesity, prolonged infections, and abnormal immune reactions to seemingly normal tissues.
How Chronic Inflammation Causes Cancer
Over time, chronic inflammation damages DNA and this is what leads to cancer. Just like injured tissues send chemical signals that lead to rapid cell growth, tumors do the same thing, like a wound that just won’t heal. The tumor sends out signals so these DNA-damaged cells continue to multiply and grow the tumor. Once there are enough damaged DNA cells growing the tumor then it hijacks the key chemical signals causing the inflammation, to keep this ideal environment for its growth.
What this all means is that once chronic inflammation sets up the perfect environment for cancer to take root, as long as there are environmental factors that cause inflammation, the cancer can use these to keep that ideal environment in place so it can continue to grow. It takes the normal inflammatory response and keeps it going, so that the cells that cause healing in the short term generate free radicals and cause DNA damage in the long term. The clearest example of this is melanoma cancer, and research has isolated exactly which inflammatory chemicals allow the tumors to multiply. Other clear examples of this include inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative colitis causing colon cancer, or H. pylori infection causing stomach cancer.
The Obesity, Inflammation, and Cancer Connection
Despite our best efforts to lose weight, obesity is now considered a worldwide epidemic, and a growing cause of preventable cancer risk. Chronic inflammation goes hand-in-hand with obesity, and this specific inflammation comes with additional cancer risk.
Your fat tissue is metabolically active, meaning it’s a part of your endocrine system. Fat tissue is even considered an organ because it secretes several hormones that not only create a dysfunctional metabolism, but also creates stem cells. Because these stem cells are secreted in the presence of chronic inflammation, they not only increase the inflammation but also contribute to tumor growth and environment. The insulin resistance, high blood sugars, and high cholesterol also feed the tumor growth.
What You Can Do To Fight Inflammation and Win
Looking at those extra pounds and knowing they carry an additional cancer risk is frightening. Ann Louise Gittleman understands this, and created her new Radical Metabolism plan using anti-inflammatory foods that not only help you lose the weight, but also reduce your chronic inflammation and cancer risk. A 16-year study of over 68,000 people just published in the Journal of Internal Medicine reinforces what she already knew: eating an anti-inflammatory diet, full of foods like coffee, cacao, nuts, cheese, and cold-pressed oils from nuts and seeds leads to a significantly lower risk of dying from cancer. These foods are what she calls Radical Staples, and she teaches you how to use them to shed both pounds and inflammation in her Radical new plan.
The other risk factor to tackle is ongoing infection. It can be as simple as nagging bronchitis or a bladder infection that won’t go away, or as insidious as the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mono and can stay active at a low level in your body for many years and cause fatigue. Even gallstones can be a sign of chronic infection and inflammation.
If you have unexplained weight gain, fatigue that isn’t relieved by rest, a cough that won’t go away, or infections you can’t seem to get over, it may be a good idea to get some testing done. Tests that measure inflammation and infection include:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): this test measures the levels of your different blood cells, including platelets and all types of white blood cells that are activated when inflammation is present. This test is especially useful when you’ve been fighting an infection you can’t seem to kick.
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP): produced in the liver, this inflammation marker will go up with inflammation anywhere in the body, and can be a sign of increased risk for most chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and more. This is a good test to have done when signs of autoimmune diseases show up, like swollen, painful joints and fatigue.
- Epstein Barr Virus Panel (EBV): when fatigue persists and a low-grade fever comes and goes, consider testing for EBV. This virus can stay dormant in the body for many years and is not only associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but also an increased risk of cancer. An antibody panel can be done and shows whether it’s active or dormant.
- Expanded GI Panel: if you suffer with digestive issues or unexplained fevers and fatigue, then this test should be considered. It not only measures inflammation in the digestive system, but also looks for infections, including Candida and common parasites, which can be causes of ongoing DNA damage and chronic inflammation.