What exactly is cancer?
I’ve discussed this topic before in a variety of ways but thought it might be useful to bring it up again during the new year.
Most everyone knows that cancer is runaway cell growth. At its worst, it attacks and invades new territories like a rabid invading army. The evolution of cancer can be compared to a civilization which harbors a few criminals but can process them in a way that minimizes harm to the rest of society. Under more toxic conditions, this can give rise to “gangs” that terrorize neighborhoods and evolve into standing armies that decimate their surroundings, eventually breaking out to ravish other societies, using whatever means are available to travel along roads or waterways normally used for healthy commerce and other normal interactions.
We know full well how people evolve from peaceful societies into warring factions based upon toxic conditions like famine, drought, want, and disease. As stated time and again throughout this blog, human society is merely an extension of our own cellular nature. Our own cellular nature is also an extension of even simpler systems which may be composed of even simpler systems and so forth. The hierarchy is as follows: 1) Human civilization and all of its social subhierarchies like countries, states, cities, etc. 2) The human body and all of its cellular subhierarchies like systems, organs, tissues, and cells. 3) The human cell and all of its intracellular subhierarchies.
The first two levels are well known and their hierarchical arrangements are generally acknowledged. The third level is much more controversial because it may involve complex hierarchical layers of control originating in the nucleus of the cell itself, i.e. within the DNA and chromosomes. People like to keep things simple and, apparently, scientists are no different, being people themselves. However, this mindset can lead to highly erroneous conclusions about how cells operate or become cancerous and can lead to roadblocks and/or dead ends in the pursuit of pure knowledge.
Having said that, just what do I mean when I talk about intracellular subhierarchies within the cellular nucleus? What I mean is that the chromosomes themselves may be composed of subcompartments that originated from even simpler kinds of cells. Think of corporate mergers as an example: Each time a merger happens, all redundancy is minimized or eliminated while retaining those unique aspects of the separate companies that contribute to the overall viability of the merger. As in human societies, one merger generally leads to another, then another and another, each time reducing redundancy and retaining the unique aspects that benefit the survival of the latest merger. However, corruption within any of the levels of this complex corporation can lead to internal toxicity that weakens the foundation, fabric, and complex interconnections holding this entity together. In the case of cells, this kind of internal corruption can lead to disease and cancer. Once one or more subcompartments have become corrupted, they may attempt to take on a life of their own, unmerge from the corporation so to speak, and attempt to survive on their own as they once did prior to the merger. This attempt to revert to an independent, free living state cannot occur due to the loss of redundancy, i.e., the genes responsible for maintaining a free living existence have been lost. As a result, these freed compartments “hijack” the cellular machinery for their own “selfish” purposes, forcing the cell to reproduce in a corrupted state which can cause more compartments to corrupt and separate, leading to a competition between them for resources akin to a civil war, riots, and intracellular anarchy. As this internal war rages, some compartments win out over others via darwinian selection. Those that can reproduce the fastest and migrate from their original source into other fertile areas become the “winners”, although in the end, everything is destroyed in the process.
Another way to look at cancer is as an infection originating from within the cell. Everybody knows that we are full of latent viruses like herpes that, depending upon environmental stimuli, are ready to self-replicate and pop out of the cell as autonomous viruses which can be transferred to other humans. These kinds of viruses have not fully merged with the intracellular DNA structure, i.e., they still have redundant genes that allow them to create fully functioning viruses. The same thing applies to intracellular parasites like certain bacteria, which like viruses, require a host to survive and reproduce but can be transferred to other humans as well. Bacteria that invade the bloodstream or lungs but do not enter cells can be thought of as extrinsic invaders because they need not interact with the host chromosomal DNA. The more intimate the relationship of a compartment like a virus or bacterium, etc within the host chromosome, the less likely it can survive as an infectious particle outside the cell. This may be the reason almost all cancers are not infectious to other hosts, feline leukemia being a notable exception. However, even in this case, an intact virus is released from the cells that infects the new host.
Our cells have a remarkable complex and energy intensive process for destroying internal wayward particles that may cause problems down the line: It is called apoptosis or programmed cell death. It is similar to controlling a jail break from prison by surrounding the offending “inmates”, sequestering them, and ultimately destroying them before they can escape and wreak havoc outside the “facility”.
So, enough for now. If you wish to comment or ask questions about any of my blog posts, you may do so here or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best regards and a Happy New Year!
Dr. Frank Abernathy