Medical myth busted: Cancer is primarily a metabolic disorder, NOT a genetic disease

Many of us are under the mistaken impression that getting cancer is very much a case of bad luck, that there is very little we can do to prevent this deadly disease. The truth is, however, that the vast majority of cancers can be avoided through simple lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, exercising regularly and eating an organic, nutrient-dense diet.

But, what about genetic cancers? Isn’t it true that there are some cancers which are caused by specific gene mutations, making certain families more susceptible to disease and almost inevitably causing cancer?

While it is true that scientists have identified mutations of certain genes like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which seem to predispose certain women to breast, ovarian and other cancers, a groundbreaking new study published in the journal Oncotarget recently found that breast cancer is primarily a metabolic disorder, not a genetic disease. (Related: Groundbreaking study looks at the regenerative potential of vitamin C for hormone health and cancer prevention.)

Nutrient deprivation of cells key to the development of cancer

The study was conducted by an international team of 35 researchers from 17 research facilities located in Europe, Brazil and the United States, and included over 1,200 participants.

For several decades, scientists have been convinced that cancer cells are metabolically different to other cells, but before the advent of mass spectrometry testing – which allows researchers to precisely analyze, measure and quantify substances found in blood chemistry – it was impossible for them to prove their theory.

The team used mass spectrometry to measure incredibly small amounts of amino acids, sugars and lipids in the blood of cancer patients and control subjects. They were able with 95 percent accuracy to identify a specific metabolic signature in the cancer patients. This indicates that breast cancer patients experience metabolic changes which “predispose” them to developing the disease.

Essentially, the researchers found that cancer develops because cancerous cells utilize energy in a different way to normal, healthy cells.

Robert Nagourney, M.D., the study’s lead author, explained, “This suggests that cancer is not a genetic disease arising solely from mutations as we have all been taught, but instead a metabolic condition that develops under the stress of cellular nutrient deprivation.” He added, “Cells that cannot generate enough energy due to lack of oxygen, sugars or proteins, common to many cancers, use altered metabolic pathways to ensure their survival. Unfortunately these cancer cells’ success comes at the expense of the host patient.”

This indicates that rather than being caused by genetic mutations, breast cancer develops when cells borrow mutated pathways as a result of limits in their nutrient supply. And it is a sobering warning that cancer is even more linked to diet, weight control and lifestyle than we may previously have thought. (Related: Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is key to preventing cancer.)

News Medical Life Sciences reported:

As cancer is increasingly associated with obesity, this study provides scientific proof that diet and lifestyle contribute the stresses that, in predisposed individuals, can lead to malignant transformation and death.

Earlier, more accurate diagnosis

The research team believes that the study offers new hope for the prevention and early diagnosis of breast cancer. Currently, more than a quarter of a million American women are diagnosed with this disease each year, resulting in over 40,000 deaths. Unfortunately, the current screening protocols like mammography and ultrasound cannot detect the disease at its earliest and most curable stage. The research team hopes that their study will provide the basis for earlier, more accurate prediction of which women may be predisposed to this deadly disease.

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