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Cancer: "Single Cause" Fallacy

Brad Farra - Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I thought this was an excellent piece by a nutrition reporter:

"One of the foundations of modern medicine is that each disease has a single cause - identify the cause and a drug treatment will follow. The idea certainly helps with the marketing and sales of drugs, but it denies the complexity of most disease processes.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that cancer would be cured by 1976. Over the years, we've read hundreds (if not thousands) of promising news releases and scientific papers suggesting that the "latest" discovery could very well lead to a cure, or at least to effective treatments, for cancer. Despite all of the research - hundreds of billion dollars of funding - the death rate from cancer between 1950 and 2005 has decreased by only 5 percent. In contrast, deaths from heart disease decreased by 64 percent during this time.

Although all types of cancer share many features, such as the proliferation of abnormal cells, cancers can have many different causes. Alterations in gene function are at the root of cancer, but they can result from any number of factors, including poor nutrition, elevated hormone levels, and environmental toxins.

Damage to some individual genes, such as the p53 and BRCA, certainly increase the risk of cancer. But the research increasingly shows that cancers don't develop because of one or two genes that go bad. Rather, cancers are the consequence of a lot going wrong and going out of control. An analogy: instead of one musician hitting a bad note, cancer is more like all of the musicians hitting a bad note, cancer is more like all of the musicians in an orchestra repeatedly hitting the wrong notes.

So if cancer does not have a single cause, what's the best way to tackle the disease? The only sensible approach is to emphasize prevention - eating better diets, taking some nutritional supplements, exercising,and creating an environment with fewer environmental toxins. I don't think we'll ever eliminate cancer or identify a "cure," but through mindful living we can certainly reduce the risk of cancer and the number of people who must undergo surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation - treatments that often produce as much suffering as the disease itself."

-Jack Challem (Nutrition Reporter, June 2009, Vol. 20, No. 6)

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