Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27, 2014 — It’s Always Something

I ran across an older article today that I had somehow missed when it came out (oh, I know why I missed it — I had just gotten out of the hospital at the time, recovering from my pulmonary embolisms and complications thereof). On January 4, 2014, George Johnson writes, in a New York Times article called “Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancer”:

“The rhetoric about the war on cancer implies that with enough money and determination, science might reduce cancer mortality as dramatically as it has with other leading killers — one more notch in medicine’s belt. But what, then, would we die from? Heart disease and cancer are primarily diseases of aging. Fewer people succumbing to one means more people living long enough to die from the other.”

I’ve written about this phenomenon on other occasions. In most cases, tt’s not that cancer is increasing, due to pathogens in the environment or from whatever other cause you may care to name: we’re just living longer because other threats to human survival have been minimized. And the older we get, the more our cells become subject to mutations that can result in cancer.

Something similar is happening with Alzheimer’s Disease, that’s likewise on the rise. It’s a disease of the aged, so if you increase the number of the aged, you’re going to see more disease.

Johnson continues:

“[Cancer] is not so much a disease as a phenomenon, the result of a basic evolutionary compromise. As a body lives and grows, its cells are constantly dividing, copying their DNA — this vast genetic library — and bequeathing it to the daughter cells. They in turn pass it to their own progeny: copies of copies of copies. Along the way, errors inevitably occur. Some are caused by carcinogens but most are random misprints.”

Remarkable progress has been made, Johnson points out, in reducing or curing childhood cancers — mortality from childhood cancers has fallen by more than 50% since 1975. When specific cancers are caused by carcinogens — such as tobacco smoke in the case of lung cancer, or poor public sanitation in the case of some stomach cancers — gains have been made on those fronts, as well. But still, an increasingly aged population means increases in cancers as well.

I’ve occasionally heard some people say, tongue-in-cheek, after the latest news report that some food or chemical causes cancer: “Life causes cancer.” There’s actually some truth to that.