Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is Meat Unhealthy? Part VI

In this post, I'll examine the possible relationship between meat consumption and cancer risk.

Is cancer risk even modifiable?

Cancer is caused by the uncontrolled division of a population of rogue cells in the body.  These cells essentially evolve by natural selection to escape the body's multiple anti-cancer mechanisms.  

To a large extent, cancer appears to be a numbers game.  The human body contains about 37 trillion cells.  To get cancer, all you need is one cell that develops key mutations that allow it to shed its built-in restrictions on cell division.  The older you are, the more time you have to accumulate mutations, explaining why cancer risk rises sharply with age.

Unlike other common non-communicable diseases, we don't know to what extent cancer is caused by modifiable diet and lifestyle factors vs. bad luck that's completely outside our control.  Some cancers, such as lung cancer, are typically linked to lifestyle factors like cigarette smoking-- yet the majority of cancers aren't so easily understood.
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