Cut Inflammation, Reduce Cancer Risk?
Over the past few decades, it’s become increasingly clear that low-level inflammation in the body plays a previously under-appreciated role in the development of numerous serious diseases. Cardiovascular disease, for example, is the leading killer of men and women in the United States, to this day, despite significant improvements in identifying and addressing risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, and high blood lipid levels.
Most cardiovascular disease begins many years before it is detected, with the gradual development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory process. The delicate lining of the blood vessels—a tissue known as the endothelium—becomes inflamed and prone to deposits of fatty plaque. Over time, these plaques can become further inflamed, sparking the development of clots, which may break free and travel to the heart where they can cause a heart attack. When these clots travel to the brain, a stroke can occur.
Cancer is a distant second killer. But it’s arguably more frightening to most than heart disease. It’s also now believed to be fundamentally an inflammation-based condition. Ordinarily, inflammation is a process used by the immune system to destroy invading bacteria and other threats. But under certain circumstances inflammation becomes chronic, and arguably counter-productive. As noted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, at a recent annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, chronic inflammation drives tumor growth.
"In the last 20 years we've recognized that chronic inflammation and cancer are connected—long-term inflammation leads to the development of dysplasia and tumor progression," said lead author Sandra Cascio, Ph.D., a research associate in Pitt's Department of Immunology. "Recently, scientists have provided detailed insights into molecules and cellular pathways linking inflammation and cancer. In our study, we found a new mechanism that had previously escaped us."
In essence, researchers discovered, tumor cells hijack an inflammatory molecule, and use it to promote ever-escalating inflammation, which drives still more aggressive cancer cell growth. "Developing drugs that could keep these genes from being improperly turned on and off could interrupt this cancer-inflammation process and stop the tumor growth and spread," said Dr. Cascio. "It's a promising avenue for future exploration.”
It also suggests that a diet and lifestyle that do not promote inflammation—or even better, which combat inflammation—may explain why people who adhere to anti-inflammatory diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, are less likely to suffer from heart disease or cancer.
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. "Cancer-inflammation 'vicious cycle' detailed in new study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2015. .