Thursday, September 14, 2006


Yesterday, I went to a seminar titled "The Evolution of Leukemia." It's an intriguing title, but as I imagined, it's really only metaphorically related to evolution. It's based on the idea that a mutation that transforms a cell into a cancerous cell, makes it the fittest cell in the enviroment, enabling it to survive the best, divide the fastest, so the analogy to "survival of the fittest" is not unreasonable.

But it was interesting to me, because the dude emphasized a kind of change in how we think about ways to get cancer, and I think it has some implications for how I should be living my life. Peeps that read my blog know that I run a lot, and I'm in good shape, but if you read closely, you might see that I don't always take care of myself in other ways, like with the types of foods I eat, and I must admit, I have a bit of a self-destructive side.

It's easy when some doctor tells you, you have to take care of yourself better, and you'll have to eat better, because you're a bearclaw away from certain death. But, I'm thinking it would be nice to change these things without the journey to rock bottom and back.

I had a point. I've gotten sidetracked talking about my own problems. Anyway, the paradigm change I was referring to earlier is about how to think about the causes of cancer, and by extension how to avoid cancer.

So, typically, you get cancer by sustaining some damage to your DNA in one of your cells. Most of the time the damage is repaired correctly, and even when it's repaired incorrectly, most of the time the error does nothing. Only when the error changes how the cell replicates, and that error actually improves the rate of cell division can you get something cancerous, and the rate that that happens is very low. (low for sure, but non-zero - there are no zeros in biology)

But with this mindset, the typical method of avoiding cancer is to avoid anything that can damage your DNA. (i.e. ultraviolet light from the sun, carcinogens like cigarette smoke, or asbestos, anything mutagenic, etc. etc. etc.) And, of course, it's good to keep avoiding those things, but maybe we can do more. The data presented emphasize the importance for healthy competition with cancerous cells, the idea being that a vibrant and healthy population of cells is not likely to be overrun by a cancerous cell line because there are very few improvements that can be made to it. Only when the population of cells is crippled by a genetic defect, or by old age, or by malnutrition, is it possible for beneficial adaptations to occur. (beneficial in this case meaning faster growing and potentially cancerous)

Even if I moved into one of those plastic bubbles, mutations, and DNA damage is not totally avoidable, and errors can happen during DNA replication too, which is even harder to fix, so there is always some probability of a cell transforming into a cancerous cell. But, in addition to avoiding the causes of cancer, by not smoking and such, there seems to be more that can be done to promote healthy competition with transformed cells, to inhibit those cancers that will inevitably occur.

I usually have the mindset that if such and such hasn't been shown to cause cancer, then there's no reason to avoid it. Where is the data that Jack-in-the-Box is mutagenic? The bacon ultimate cheeseburger probably doesn't affect DNA repair or replication, but I'll bet it does affect the efficiency and viability of cells in some way, I can tell the next day that something's not right. :)

It helps me to have some rationale to do something, especially to do something I'm not really looking forward to. I'm pretty good at avoiding the really bad things, but not so good an seeking out the good things, even though I do feel better when I'm eating properly. Maybe feeling healthy and vibrant is all the reward you need, but I need my life to be threatened to eat right. :)

There's another long post under the surface about trying to significantly change my life before the scary "wake-up call," but I'm not articulate enough to write it.

Listening to: Macy Gray - I Try (I try to say goodbye and I choke. Try to walk away and I stumble.)

Rock on.

1 comment:

Jill said...

I know - trick yourself. That is what I am trying to do.

Instead of saying "I am going to do this or eat this because it will make me healthier" say "I am going to do this or eat this because it will make a faster more efficient runner."

That is what I am doing!! And I think it is working!