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September 29, 2018

Cancer: A killer on the loose

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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I recently lost a dear brother to cancer, and another professional colleague three years ago. About five years ago, my sister underwent her first mastectomy due to breast cancer, and her second was done just last month.

Who, or what, keeps hacking into our healthy cells and infecting them with viruses that change their preprogrammed algorithms?

To most who receive a dreaded cancer diagnosis, it feels like an alien invasion. Something is making relentless war on the human body.

Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells that are continually dying and being replaced by new ones. Each cell is preprogrammed with a biological algorithm in which the death of a neighboring cell prompts those around it to divide.

But cancer cells are dangerously different.

They are not programmed to die. Instead, they keep on dividing, stealing the blood supply from healthy tissues, causing severe pain and eventually complete systems-failure within the body.

If not controlled by the internal immune system, removed by surgery, or treated through medication, cancer cells continue to spread until the host body dies.

Statistics are confirming our worst fears. If cancer seems to be striking everywhere around you, it’s not imaginary.

Global cancer rates are growing. In the first half of this year alone, 18.1 million new cases were diagnosed worldwide, resulting in 9.6 million deaths – more than one in two.

According to the latest report of the UN World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, by the end of the 21st century (perhaps even long before the end), this disease will be the No. 1 global killer and the single greatest barrier to longer human life expectancy.

The WHO researchers used data from 185 countries, compiled for all the places in or on the body where cancer most frequently occurs. They identified no less than 36 different types.

They estimate that one in five men, and one in six women, will develop one or more forms of cancer during their lifetime; moreover, one in eight men, and one in 11 women, will die from the disease.

Topping the list for frequency and fatality rates are lung, breast and colorectal cancers.

Lung cancer is the most deadly and will account for 1.8 million deaths – or 18.4% of total cancer deaths – in 2018, according to the WHO report.

Colorectal cancer is second for mortality, with 881,000 deaths expected. Breast cancer comes in fifth with an anticipated 627,000 deaths. As in the recent past, these three cancers combined are expected to account for one-third of all estimated global cancer deaths in 2018.

Although cancer is not new in human history, its emergence in epidemic proportions and types is indeed unprecedented. The earliest known descriptions of the disease appear in several papyrus documents from ancient Egypt. The Edwin Smith Papyrus from around 1600 BCE (possibly a copied fragment from as early as 2500 BCE), contains a detailed description of cancer, as well as procedural instructions for removing breast tumors by cauterization (burning away diseased tissue).

The origin of the word “cancer” itself is credited to Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BCE), considered the “Father of Medicine.” Hippocrates introduced the terms carcinos and carcinoma (the latter one still used today) to describe non-ulcer-forming and ulcer-forming tumors.

Fast-forward again to the present. While identifying no specific causation, Dr. Christopher Wild, director of WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer emphasizes that “much remains to be done to address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally and that prevention has a key role to play … Early detection policies must be implemented urgently to complement treatments in order to control this devastating disease across the world.”

Cancer-producing factors are admittedly difficult to correct, for cancer is often the end result, or cumulative effect, of long-term environmental and social conditions.

We have all heard of individuals with admirably healthy lifestyles being diagnosed with the disease.

Unfortunately, a “clean” lifestyle cannot guarantee 100% protection for there are carcinogens in the air, water, unlabelled commodities and other products with which most of the world’s population comes into contact.

To address cancer at that level, greater public advocacy is needed to effect political change to reduce or stop vast multinational industries from using or producing known carcinogens in their products. 

But a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and doing regular exercise are still worthwhile in reducing our risk of cancer and many other diseases; in fact, it was good common sense long before formal research produced measurable facts to support it.

A more recent threat – virtually ignored to date – is the risk associated with excessive cell phone use, especially where these devices are in long contact with healthy tissue.

Not only has cell phone radiation been shown to contribute to various cancers, it also interferes with the body’s production of essential hormones and lowers sperm counts.

In 2010, Dr. Devra Davis, head of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Environmental Oncology, published an eye-opening book called Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation: What the industry is doing to hide it, and how to protect your family.

As a world expert on microchips that power our cell phones, I have written many articles and regularly contribute current information on this issue to the online magazine and other media, as well as managing a Facebook page on the subject.

But pushback from manufacturers, politicians, legislators, and the media has so far created an environment of almost criminal denial – and our younger generations will inevitably pay the price unless we sit up and take notice.

These powerful lobby groups maintain there is no conclusive evidence that radiation from cell phones or related devices affects healthy tissue, or contributes to cancer risk. They also insist that epidemiological studies have not documented a significantly increased risk of brain cancer, despite the widespread use of cell phones.

The reality is that both anecdotal and empirical evidence is steadily mounting that indicates current cell phone technology does pose a cancer-risk. Debate on the issue largely centers around how much and how often; detractors are exploiting this “grey area” by suggesting that risk factors are therefore inconclusive.

Since cell phones are a daily part of nearly everyone’s life (and no amount of health science is likely to change that in the foreseeable future), here are some tips to reduce your potential cancer risk:

1. The harmful impact of radiation is a function of its amount, its distance, and its duration of contact with a certain spot. Danger increases with the frequency of using such devices.

2. Never give a child unlimited access to a cell phone; it should be used only for emergencies. A child’s brain is smaller than an adult’s and more vulnerable to radiation exposure.

3. Avoid leaving your cell phone turned on 24/7; it radiates electromagnetic energy even when you are not using it. Get into the habit of powering up only when you are actively using it, or are expecting a call or message.

4. Turn off wireless functions whenever they’re not needed. Writing a long email is an example; connect to Wi-Fi when you’re ready to send.

5. Keep cell phones and similar radiation-emitting personal devices as far as possible from your body, especially the head (at least arm’s length), when they’re not actively being used to send or receive communications.

Like any lifestyle changes that could reduce your risk of the more-familiar cancers I mentioned above, changing your cell phone habits takes time, patience and perseverance. But it’s well worth it in the long term to become informed and proactive now and to share that knowledge with others.

Parents can teach their children by setting a healthy example in moderating their own personal device usage, along with well-known cancer preventing habits such as a nutritious diet, weight control, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking and alcohol.

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