Saturday, April 20, 2013

First Reader: Cancer and Its Causes

Before our class lectures, I was not too informed about what causes cancer, partially because I have not known anyone very close to me that has been diagnosed with cancer – my understanding was that it was caused by mostly environmental factors and genetics along with very little influence from other factors presented in the reading such as poor diet and energy expenditure, but some of the factors presented were new to me (i.e. co-evolution with pathogens, evolved capacities for defense). Upon reflection, none of the article’s claims are surprising or immediately questionable. The article mentions that cancer is a disease that is not new to our modern environment, however, sometimes due to mismatch, certain types of cancer are obviously more common within it. Since cancer is majorly influenced by culture or lifestyle, this means that developed nations such as the United States are plagued with cancer more easily and more often, another throwback to our lessons concerning the negative consequences of industrialization. I think the most interesting part of the article is when it mentions faster growth rates being linked to higher cancer rates; I also think it’s frightening, because it applies to me, and now that I have been presented these additional causes of cancer, I realize that there could be a higher risk for me than I’ve previously thought – of course, this is not meant to be hypochondriacal self-diagnosis but rather a smarter awareness. 


  1. The part about faster growth rates corresponding to higher cancer rates was also very interesting to me. There's a statement made that says "Cancer increases with age, as there are increased numbers
    of cell divisions, more accumulation of somatic mutations, and declining abilities to suppress cancer." It almost feels like it's saying that we're going to be punished for the fact that we can now live longer! But as you said, this does sound frightening. The way i see it though is that although not all factors that lead to cancer can be controlled, many actually are. For example, if we look at lung cancer, the number one risk factor is tobacco smoke (85% of lung cancers in the U.S.), followed by residential exposure to radon gas, air pollution in urban areas, and exposure to asbestos fibers, arsenic, or chromium. Some risk factors for Colorectal and Prostate cancer are high cholesterol issues, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and a high saturated fat/low fiber diet. When discussing the interactions of microbes, the article specifically mentions that "altered metabolism and immune system functions are important" when it comes to a neoplasm transitioning from benign to malignant. So again we see that watching over things like our glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity can ultimately have an impact on decreasing our risks. These are all negative consequences of industrialization but energy balance and lifestyle factors can be somewhat controlled as long as we are knowledgeable and aware of the decisions that we make on a day to day basis.

  2. I feel as though a large portion of the general public is not aware of many cancer-causing agents, like yourself. From childhood, we were told that cigarettes are bad and can lead to cancer. As we grew older, we came to find this information right on the packaging, yet there are still individuals that choose to take that risk with their health. In addition, some household products contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer with chronic exposure. Some of these are as common as the dyes used to color products, while others are exposure to metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. While certainly not every product in the closet is certainly going to give you cancer, there is the small possibility that someone somewhere could be affected. If everyone knew just how many factors contribute to cancer, they may freak out. Like you have said, cancer is relatively rare in our society. However, it seems like just about anyone knows a person who has been challenged with a cancerous battle. This is the unfortunate reality we have to face in a post-industrial society where people live longer than their ancestors. Until a cure is found that wipes out cancer for good, we can tread a little more carefully around some of the things that can increase our risk of getting cancer.

  3. Respondent:


    I really enjoyed reading your post because it gave me perspective, as did the article. I have unfortunately experience of knowing three people who have rare and aggressive forms of cancer, and one of them died from it. Due to this experience, the Big C always seems to be lurking because according to the experts, these people were not supposed to contract this disease.

    After reading a post from some one who has little experience with it as you say, the way you outlined what the article stated, put it in a more rationalized perspective, that this is something influence by culture of lifestyle, making cancer a more common occurrence in our country.

    Now I know that you said you found it frightening, but as someone familiar with “rare” forms of cancer, this is actually reassuring because it diminishes the question of why them. Not that I am trying to take away from their struggle with this disease. I know what it cost them, and I have experienced certain costs as well, but it made it all seem less random. As much as your awareness has helped you, it has helped me as well in a different way. Seeing this new proclivity towards cancer helped me be aware because it more aware that some things that maybe were rare have become more common in our modern environment.

  4. Respondent:
    I find the part about how cancer has a higher risk on people who mature fastertnthan others to be really interesting to me as well. I know someone very close to me that has gone through menopause already at the age of 22 and as I am told that is something most women get when they are fairly older. This makes me feel as though cancer inevitable for her and that there is nothing that can be done. Then again because how much culture plays a role in the chances of getting cancer I feel as though the percentage of Americans getting cancer will increase a huge amount especially given that heterozygous cells with cancer have a higher chance of getting stronger and with that I just imagine different cancer cells forming to new kinds of cancer. I am glad I am at least becoming aware of this stuff because I too thought it was mostly genetics, but now I see the different situations that can cause cancer.