Does this connection extend to cancer? We analyzed the research and read up on multiple scientific theories to answer this question. This guide will get you up to speed on the research continuing today while making some science-backed suggestions for controlling the inflammation in your body to improve your health and potentially extend your life.
Why Is Inflammation a Problem?
Inflammation is essential to life, but it also becomes a danger to life when out of control. You know that a cut on your finger is inflamed when it gets red, swells up and feels warm. These are all exterior signs that your body has sustained an injury and your immune system is working hard to repair the damage. Without this process, minor cuts would become serious infections that never heal.
The same inflammatory response occurs inside the body. When damaged cells, bacteria, foreign matter or another perceived threat is detected internally, the immune system responds by sending in the white blood cells to repair the damage, kill the bacteria or stop foreign matter from causing harm.
When this process is routinely triggered in the absence of a legitimate threat, autoimmune disorders are the result. That army of white blood cells attacks bodily tissue without damage or infection, resulting in internal inflammation that often leads to pain, tissue damage and a variety of symptoms that are specific to the condition. Uncontrollable inflammation can lead to limited mobility, chronic pain and other life-altering symptoms.
Inflammation can also occur for long periods of time while displaying no symptoms at all. This is when the risk for ongoing damage and more serious health problems are heightened.
Inflammation and Cancer – The Research
Can we take the leap from saying that inflammation is a root problem for many autoimmune disorders to saying that inflammation causes cancer? This idea was first introduced to the medical community more than 150 years ago by Rudolph Virchow. When analyzing cancer cells taken from women suffering from breast cancer, he discovered the presence of leukocytes. These white blood cells travel through the bloodstream in search of infections that need healed or foreign bodies that need removed.
From his research, Virchow introduced the theory that some cancers begin at sites of inflammation. A growing body of research has developed from that theory, and it is now believed that many cancers start out as infections that trigger an inflammatory response. While the body’s goal is to heal the infection, inflammation can help cancer cells thrive.
The process of cancer development is known as carcinogenesis, and we now know that this process starts with changes in cellular DNA. This includes damaged cells that aren’t properly repaired, mutations, genetic rearrangements and other changes to cells in a specific part of the body. Animal research has shown that inflammation can trigger these changes, leaving cells vulnerable to the development of cancer.
Taking it a step further, there is some scientific evidence that the presence of leukocytes and other markers of inflammation can contribute to the proliferation of cancer cells. This means that inflammation can help cancer grow and even spread to multiple areas of the body. The process likely involves cytokines, which are proteins that orchestrate communication between cells. Scientists now have proof that these proteins can help cancer spread through the same communication networks that allow the immune system to effectively heal infections.
It’s important to note that not all cancers are rooted in inflammation. Research is ongoing to determine which cancers can develop and spread in this manner and how to stop the process, but limiting infection and inflammation is a good way to lower your risk of developing many cancers. We’ll discuss how you can do that in a moment, but first let’s take a quick look at some cancers that have been scientifically connected to inflammation.
Inflammation & Liver Cancer
Liver Fluke-Associated Cholangiocarcinoma, also known as CCA, is one of the most common forms of liver cancer in the world. Cysts in the biliary ducts and viral or parasitic infections are among the recognized causes of this cancer, but inflammation also plays a role for many patients. It comes down to a condition known as primary sclerosing cholangitis, otherwise referred to as PSC.
PSC involves inflammation of the biliary ducts and the formation of a tumor that often develops into CCA. Studies have found that more than 50 percent of patients diagnosed with PSC also suffer from CCA or will receive a diagnosis of CCA within one year.
Research has also shown that inflammation in the biliary ducts is a contributory factor to cancer even if it isn’t associated with PSC. For instance, people who suffer from gallstones may have a heightened risk of cancer due to the inflammation that is often caused by the stones. Other factors are likely involved as well, but limiting inflammation could help ease or prevent PSC. This in turn lowers the risk of developing CCA.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and it’s predicted that nearly 100,000 people will receive a diagnosis in 2018 alone. While the American Cancer Society lists obesity, smoking and other lifestyle factors as primary contributors to colorectal cancer, they also recognize that people with a history of inflammatory bowel disease are more at risk.
Research printed in a 2011 issue of the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that colorectal patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) had a poorer survival rate than patients without this inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers noted that there were no noticeable differences between patients with or without UC in the early stages of colorectal cancer, but patients at the advanced stages showed a clear difference in their likelihood of survival.
The researchers for this study stressed the importance of screening for ulcerative colitis and treating it as early as possible. While they were unable to identify why UC reduces the colorectal cancer survival rate, they firmly believe that treating UC as early as possible could help reduce the prevalence of this cancer. Along with Crohn’s Disease, UC is an inflammatory disease of the bowel.
Can We Prevent Cancer through the Gut?
All of this research into irritable bowel disease, PSC and cancers of the liver and colon come together when you add the gut microbiome. We’ve previously discussed how to keep the gut healthy in great depth, but it’s worth mentioning that the microbiota inhabiting the microbiome may contribute to some forms of cancer.
These microbes have successfully adapted to the gut’s environment over time and have survived without elimination from other bacteria inhabiting the same space. Perhaps this gives these microorganisms a heightened chance of stimulating the growth of cancer without elimination from the immune system.
While researchers have yet to connect all the dots, this could explain why patients with inflammatory bowel disease have lower survival rates in the advanced stages of colorectal cancer. There is a scientific connection between microbiota in the gut and the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and now we have a connection between IBD and some forms of cancer. The current theory is that we may prevent some colorectal cancer cases by keeping the gut microbiome healthy to prevent or control irritable bowel disease.
Scientists have also found a connection between the gut microbiome and PSC. It turns out that some patients with PSC also have inflammatory bowel disease, and there is some evidence that inflammation and bacteria in the gut are connected to the development of both conditions. Since PSC often leads to liver cancer, controlling gut inflammation and boosting the number of healthy microorganisms in the gut sounds like a great way to limit the risk of developing both of these conditions.
How to Beat Inflammation
The problem with inflammation is that it isn’t always easy to detect. Since it occurs inside the body, it’s not as easy as noticing that your finger is red and swollen. You can have no symptoms at all while suffering from internal inflammation for years. That leaves your body vulnerable to some forms of cancer, so it’s important to learn how to reduce inflammation through lifestyle choices.
This is often as simple as switching to a plant-based diet, drinking more water, getting adequate rest and moving your body as much as possible. If that sounds like the recipe for the prevention of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other life-threatening conditions, you see why lifestyle is so important. Small changes that you can make right now could reduce inflammation inside your body and lower your risk of cancer and many other diseases. Get started by looking over our list of 22 Ways to Reduce Inflammation Fast.