Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-Day Adventists and Other Vegetarians

By Gary E. Fraser | Go to book overview

3
Cancer Rates among
Adventists and Others

Cancer is fundamentally a disorder of the control mechanisms for cell multiplication and location. Normal cells have built-in mechanisms that limit their rate of multiplication, so that new cells appear only where others have died—at least after childhood growth has ceased. Organs maintain their shape and functional integrity by these means. Control mechanisms ensure that most normal cells of fixed organs do not move about and never enter the blood or lymphatic circulation and then settle and multiply in some distant organ (a metastasis).

Yet this is what happens in many cancers, which, after metastasis, are usually incurable with current therapies. Even those cancers that have not metastasized if untreated may grow rapidly to form tumors in their organ of origin. These may interfere with the organ's function or may damage other surrounding structures.

The flaws that underlie a cell's escape from control are largely located in the DNA of the cell nucleus. In other words, if certain critical genes become damaged or mutated, the cell will no longer behave normally (Ruoslahti, 1996; Weinberg, 1996). The body does have several back-up or emergency mechanisms, and evidence suggests that a cell must actually accumulate multiple mutations before cancer results.

DNA can be damaged by several different processes. A small proportion of cancers are hereditary. The damaged DNA in these cases is inherited from the person's parents. Other causes of damage are radiation, including natural radiation, and exposure to chemicals that bind and alter DNA. These include certain chemicals found in tobacco smoke and also free radicals. The latter are highly reactive molecules that are formed naturally by the body's metabolism but usually are quickly deactivated. Although most cancers are not caused by viruses, cancers of the uterine cervix

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