The Hidden Cancer Epidemic
Just a few years ago, the government released an optimistic report stating that the rate of cancer was leveling off or declining. In 2002, the National Cancer Institute disclosed that the data used to prepare this report was seriously flawed.1,2 According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidences for some of the most deadly cancers are sharply increasing.
The American Cancer Association responded to these stunning statistics by urging that more research be devoted to ascertain why prevention programs are failing.
What has become strikingly apparent is that the most respected cancer institutions are clueless to explain why more Americans than ever before are contracting cancer.
Regrettably, most cancer cases occur needlessly. Thousands of published scientific findings provide a clear roadmap as to what one can do to reduce their cancer risk. The problem is that consumers are overwhelmed by the volume of cancer prevention data and have largely failed to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.
One mission of The Life Extension Foundation is to catalog research findings and translate them into easy-to-follow protocols. This enables members to take advantage of all the published knowledge about how to prevent cancer and other diseases.
In this month's issue, we discuss fundamental reasons for why so many people are contracting cancer. We then suggest relatively simple lifestyle changes that can help keep normal cells from transforming into malignant ones.
The medical establishment admits its failures
Despite enormous research dollars committed to finding a cure for cancer, very little improvement in survival has occurred over the past 50 years against most cancers.
It is well known that chemotherapy drugs have a high rate of failure. This was brought out in the January 10, 2002 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine,3 where it was noted that 20 years of clinical trials using chemotherapy on advanced lung cancer have yielded survival improvement of only two months. This editorial pointed out that while new chemotherapy regimens appear to be improving survival, when these same regimens are tested on a wider range of cancer patients, the results have been disappointing. In other words, oncologists at a single institution may obtain a 40% to 50% response rate in a tightly controlled study, but when these same chemotherapy drugs are administered in the real world setting, response rates decline to only 17% to 27%.
In fairness, we should point out that certain types of cancer are responding better now to chemotherapy compared to 30 years ago. These include lymphomas (Hodgkins, non-Hodgkin's and Burkitt's), multiple myeloma, hairy cell leukemia, chronic lymphocytic and certain other types of leukemia. Depending on the timing of treatment, some institutions are also seeing better results with breast and early-stage lung cancer.
While there have been successes against particular cancers, for many other types, the prognosis has not changed much since 1950. This fact was brought out in a study published in the June 14, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.4 According to this study, the five-year survival rate for most forms of cancer was the same in 1995 as they were in 1950. The title of this study was "Are Increasing 5-Year Survival Rates Evidence of Success Against Cancer?" The answer was no! This study showed that the only reason more cancer patients are living longer than five-years is because of earlier diagnosis. The authors of this study stated that the ability of medicine to effectively treat most cancers was no better than it was in 1950. Previous observers and commentators conveyed the same disappointing data.5,7
The fastest growing type of cancer
Over the past 25 years, the incidence of esophageal cancer (of the adenocarcinoma type) has increased 350%, faster than any other malignancy in the western world.8 One study showed that esophageal adenocarcinoma cases are increasing 5% to 10% each year in developed countries. Another study showed that the rate of esophageal adenocarcinoma increased eight-fold over a 20-year period in Denmark.9
These increased rates are strongly related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). One study looked at possible risk factors and concluded that severe reflux symptoms (heartburn), male sex and obesity, may identify patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease who are at the greatest risk for the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma.10
The two common forms of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Risk factors for the squamous cell type of esophageal cancer include use of tobacco, moderate to heavy alcohol ingestion and infrequent consumption of raw fruits and vegetables.9 The primary risk factor for the more difficult-to-treat adenocarcinoma directly relates to those who suffer heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux). It is the adenocarcinoma type of esophageal cancer that is exponentially increasing in prevalence.
These grim statistics have motivated The Life Extension Foundation to develop specific strategies to protect against esophageal adenocarcinoma. Until the formal protocol is published, members are advised to follow lifestyle changes that keep bile, acids, enzymes and food in the stomach and out of the esophagus. Some of these approaches involve eating several small meals throughout the day instead of one big meal, elevating the head end of the bed six to nine inches, losing weight and avoiding eating four hours before bedtime. The long-term use of stomach acid suppressing drugs is not recommended. An updated Esophageal Reflux Protocol will be available within the next few months.
In the meantime, there is some encouraging news. Two very recent studies indicate that common vitamin supplements lower esophageal adenocarcinoma risk. The first study looked at a group of German esophageal cancer cases and compared them to age-matched healthy controls. The findings showed that vitamin E, vitamin C, folic acid, beta-carotene supplements significantly reduced the risk of both adenocarcinoma and squamous cell esophageal cancers. In this study, the use of a vitamin C supplement was associated with a 66% reduction, whereas vitamin E supplementation reduced esophageal cancer risk by an astounding 87%!11
The second study evaluated a group of esophageal cancer cases residing in Nebraska and compared them to a control group. The findings revealed a 50% reduction in esophageal adenocarcinoma incidence in those who consumed the highest levels of vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, vitamin B2 and other nutrients.12
While these studies are encouraging to vitamin supplement users, they should not be used as an excuse to ignore the lifestyle changes needed to mitigate the effects of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). The most significant risk factor for developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is GERD, and The Life Extension Foundation is designing the world's most comprehensive program to protect those suffering with chronic GERD (heartburn) from developing esophageal cancer.
All cancers are caused by gene mutations.13 This simple fact is obscured by the publicity given to specific agents like cigarette smoke that cause cancer by inflicting mutations to genes. Cigarette smoke mutates genes, which can later manifest as cancer in some people. Those who quit smoking have higher rates of lung cancer later in life because the body is not always able to repair the initial gene mutation inflicted by the cigarette smoke.
There are many factors involved in gene mutation including exposure to sunlight, medical x-rays and dietary carcinogens. The aging process itself results in gene mutation, which helps explain why the risk of cancer increases as we grow older.
Most people have a difficult time grasping the complexities of genes and their relationship to cancer. The following one-sentence definition explains this in the simplest of terms:
Genes regulate cell proliferation. When genes become mutated, normal cell regulatory processes are disrupted. If too many genes involved in regulating cell proliferation become mutated, the cells lose control over their own growth rate. Cancer is a disease characterized by rapidly propagating cells that expand locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis.
Once one understands this basic concept, it becomes apparent that if we are to prevent cancer from developing in our bodies, every practical step must be taken to maintain gene integrity. Gene mutations can turn healthy cells into malignant cells. As gene mutations accumulate, the risk of cancer sharply increases.
Preventing gene mutations
It is not possible to prevent all gene mutations. Fortunately, cells possess repair mechanisms that protect against most cancer-causing gene mutations.15,16
The most prevalent cause of environmental genetic mutation is the food we eat everyday. Life Extension has reported extensively on particularly dangerous foods such as over-cooked meats and fish that are loaded with gene-mutating heterocyclic amines. Unfortunately, the list of gene-mutating foods keeps growing, as scientists expose the fact that processed foods (designed for taste and convenience) are incredibly dangerous.
As noted earlier in this article, the prevalence of cancer continues to increase at a frightening pace. Smoking rates, however, have declined drastically since the 1950s. The increased rate of cancer points to other sources of gene mutation, with the increased consumption of the wrong kinds of foods being a prime suspect.
Over the past 12 months, The National Cancer Institute has issued an exceptionally large number of press releases urging Americans to consume at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.17,18 The evidence that consumption of different types and colors of fruits-vegetables reduces cancer risk is irrefutable. Scientists have identified dozens of cancer-preventing constituents in plants including indole-3-carbinol, folic acid, bioflavonoids, lycopene, sulforaphane and lutein. The most effective anti-mutagenic agent identified to date is chlorophyll, which is found in green vegetables.
It is difficult for most people to consume the variety and quantity of fruits-vegetables recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Dietary supplements that contain standardized potencies of these cancer-preventing plant extracts have become extremely popular amongst Life Extension members.
A number of dietary carcinogens inflict their gene mutating effects by causing excessive free radical generation. Antioxidants help protect against gene mutation by neutralizing free radicals. It is more important, however, to inactivate gene-mutating carcinogens before they form free radicals. This is why supplements like chlorophyll (chlorophyllin) are so promising as cancer prevention agents.
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