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The Link Between Inflammation and Cancer

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How potent is the link between inflammation and cancer?

Factors such as diet, tobacco consumption, and high stress occupations may lead to cancer because these things are likely to initiate inflammation which drives tumor progression. Ever wondered why these things contribute to cancer? It’s because a lot of these things – if not all – result from inflammation. What you eat, high cholesterol all initiates inflammation. With tobacco your immune cells spike trying to clean the toxins If you have a high stress job, lack of sleep, stress in general, your immune system will spike up.

A study published this year from MIT reveals one reason why people who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases such as colitis have a higher risk of mutations that cause cancer. The researchers also found that exposure to DNA-damaging chemicals after a bout of inflammation boosts these mutations even more, further increasing cancer risk. Inflammatory diseases such as colitis, pancreatitis, and hepatitis have been linked to greater risk for cancer of the colon, pancreas, and liver. In these chronic inflammatory diseases, immune cells produce highly reactive molecules containing oxygen and nitrogen, which can damage DNA. Inflammation also stimulates cells to divide.

Further studies in the pancreas revealed that inflammation-provoked cell division does not start happening until several days after inflammation begins, while most of the DNA damage occurs right away. This DNA damage is repaired fairly easily without causing potentially cancerous mutations. However, if another bout of inflammation induces DNA damage at a time when cells are dividing due to the previous bout of inflammation, many mutations appear. This delay between DNA damage and cell division likely serves as a defense mechanism against mutations from acute bouts of inflammation. However, this defense breaks down when the inflammation occurs soon after the original flare-up or is sustained for a long time.

These findings propose that chronic inflammation potentially results in increased DNA damage and proliferation that together can conspire to increase the chance of cancer formation. This discovery suggests that people with chronic inflammatory diseases, which are common, may be more sensitive to carcinogens in the air, food and water. Also, developing fetuses and very young children may also be more sensitive to these agents because their cells are dividing more rapidly.

The results offer support to the idea that increasing the toxicity of DNA-damaging chemotherapy by novel drug combinations can make cancer chemotherapy more effective by suppressing evolution of the tumor. It also further concludes how important leading a balanced, healthy lifestyle makes for a better life.

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