Cancer has a fearsome reputation. Not without reason either. It is a disease that has not yet fully yielded to the skills and intelligence of medical scientists and doctors.
And, as if the pain from the disease is not enough, the treatment for cancer, too, inflicts heavy suffering on the body.
Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled and abnormal cell division. Cancer spreads in the body and destroys tissues when the cancer cells travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system.
The runaway growth of cells is caused by mutations to the DNA in the cells that makes the cells unable to control cell division.
This mutation can either be inherited or acquired. The mortality rate in cancer depends on the type of cancer and where it develops.
Among cancers, lung cancer is the biggest killer, causing up to 3 million deaths every year worldwide.
It affects the above-50 age group population most and is one of the most common types of cancers that occur in the Western countries.
The main risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. Cigarette smoke, especially, contains several carcinogens. It is estimated that 80 per cent of all lung cancers are caused by smoking.
The role of passive smoking in causing lung cancer is also being recognized by studies.
Another carcinogen that causes lung cancer is asbestos. This substance, which is widely used because of its fire-resistant qualities, causes a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma cancer.
In mesothelioma asbestos lung cancer or asbestos cancer, malignant cells develop in the pleura, the outer lining of the lungs and the chest cavity.
The problem with asbestos cancer is that diagnosis is difficult. For one, the symptoms of mesothelioma cancer occur only 30-50 years after the exposure to asbestos.
Second, the symptoms of asbestos lung cancer, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, are similar to those of many other medical conditions.
The incidence of mesothelioma asbestos lung cancer has increased in the last two decades. Still it is considered a relatively rare form of lung cancer, because the incidence rate is only 1 per 1,000,000 people.
This could be as high as 7-40 per 1,000,000 in the industrialized nations. By contrast, the incidence of lung cancer is 1,000 per 1,000,000.
The common lung cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, the conventional treatment methods have not been very successful in the case of asbestos cancer, yielding only a median survival rate of 6-12 months after the presentation.
Again, surgery does not have much effect on small-cell lung cancer. A treatment method for lung cancer that has become increasingly popular in recent years is radiofrequency ablation.
This technique is especially effective in destroying the cancerous cells inside the tumors. These cells are ‘cooked’ by inserting a small heat probe into the tumor. This technique is also non-toxic and causes very little pain for the patient.
However, there is hope for the cancer-affected. Scientists are developing new techniques of treatment, such as molecular targeted therapies, for lung cancer.
Better and more effective therapies can be expected as scientists and researchers coax out more secrets from the human cells.
Can eating your broccoli and cabbage help protect you against lung cancer?
According to a study published in the October 29, 2005 issue of the British medical journal, Lancet, the answer is yes.
This isn’t the first time that it’s been suggested that cruciferous vegetables may have a preventive effect against lung cancer, but it is the largest scale study to date.
There have been a number of smaller observational studies that reported a possible link between the vegetables and lung cancer prevention, but they were considered to be too small to be definitive.
This study, conducted by a group of researchers at the Genetic Epidemiology Group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, compared 2,141 people diagnosed with lung cancer with a group of healthy people in the Czech Republic, Romania, Russia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
They chose countries where the consumption of vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts has been traditionally high.
“We found protective effects with at least weekly consumption of cruciferous vegetables,” the research letter in the Lancet stated.
Researchers believe that the beneficial effects of cruciferous vegetables are due to the high content of isothiocyanates, phytonutrients that seem to have a strong anti-cancer effect.
They are a more bioavailable form of glucosinolates, which also have been shown to have anti-cancer effects. The research conducted at Lyons takes the knowledge a step further.
Studies have shown that isothiocyanates neutralize cancerous cells by inhibiting cell proliferation. The cycle of a normal cell in the body proceeds from cell division, through specialization, and eventually, when the cell has either become damaged or has finished doing its job, to apoptosis – or cell death.
The problem with cancer cells is that they don’t go through apoptosis. For some reason, their mutations make them resistant to the message that it’s time to die. Isothiocyanates appear to be a catalyst that triggers apoptosis.
In laboratory experiments, they’ve induced apoptosis in a number of cell lines. They also seem to slow proliferation of a number of types of cancer cells, including lung cancer lines.
The researchers at Lyons found that there is also a correlation between genetics and the preventive effect of cruciferous vegetables. There are two genes that produce an enzyme that remove isothiocyanates from the body.
The Lyons study correlated the results from a diet questionnaire with blood tests to determine whether those studied had inactive or active forms of those genes.
They found that in people who had an inactive form of one of the two genes had a 37% lower risk of developing lung cancer. Those with an inactive form of the other had a 33% lower risk of developing lung cancer.
In those with both genes inactive, there was a 72% reduction in lung cancer risk. In those who had two active gene types, there was no difference in risk at all.
Said Paul Brennan, lead author of the research letter, “…this indicates that there is a specific protective effect against lung cancer from cruciferous vegetables.”
Random trials to absolutely confirm the findings would be expensive and time-consuming, Brennan notes.
In the meantime, though, including cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or turnips in your diet at least once a week may help reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.
Camille McClellan, MD, DNM, MBS
McClellan Natural Health, Wellness & Nutrition
Free Naturopathic/Homeopathic Consults Available