One of the most common problems modern Americans suffer due to our lifestyles and eating habits is chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has always been on the watch list of healthcare professionals as a source of all kinds of problems. Recent research can now add one more item to the list: cancer.
Inflammation has long been a suspect as at least one cause of cancer. In 1863, the German scientist Rudolf Virchow noticed that cancer would often develop from wound sites and other areas that had been inflamed. Now studies suggest that Virchow was right.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Inflammation itself is the body’s natural response to injury and fighting off infection. Without inflammation, we likely would not survive for very long. It results from the body sending white blood cells and other cells to a site of infection or injury. This flooding of the body produces the familiar swelling and warm feeling that are the signs of inflammation.
White bloods cells fight off foreign agents and clear out dead cells from the body. They are supposed to quickly dissipate, because inflammation can damage the healthy cells in the body if it lasts for too long. That is the problem with chronic inflammation.
When inflammation happens for other reasons, it can hurt rather than heal us. Many different conditions and agents can cause the body to inflame where there is no infection or injury. Now the beneficial aspects of inflammation suddenly turn injurious and can even provoke the appearance and spread of cancer.
How Does Chronic Inflammation Cause Cancer?
Since inflammation, when it is beneficial, relates to the healing processes, it causes an increase in cellular production. Many different proteins and substances speed up the normal process of cellular growth. Cells grow by splitting into two. Each time they split, the DNA of the cell unzips and reproduces itself.
This is not a problem in and of itself, but if allowed to continue for extended periods of time, this constant rapid cellular growth allows more opportunities for mutations which can be cancerous. Occasionally, the DNA does not split apart and come back together correctly, leaving an error in the sequence. This is how mutations develop.
A new study published in Science Transitional Medicine points toward a protein called APOBEC. This protein usually helps to add diversity to cellular proteins and also defends against viruses. However, chronic tissue inflammation can make it overactive. It then starts to spread mutations across the genome, some of which might lead to the signs of cancer.
Inflammation produces molecules called cytokines. They stimulate the growth of blood vessels to carry oxygen and nutrients to the area. However, if a tumor has formed, these nutrients will also feed the cancer.