Cancer develops when changes to DNA, nucleic acids that are the basis of heredity and contain the genetic blueprint, result in the production of malignant cells that replicate but are not controlled or killed by natural defense mechanisms in the body. Cells are most vulnerable to intrusion and damage from cancer-causing agents when cells normally divide and their DNA uncoils so that the gene information can be copied.

Often cancers are hereditary, meaning there is a predisposition to the disease but that it needs to be triggered by an environmental factor. Cancers can develop from free radicals that harm DNA or the immune system. Free radicals are created as the result of an oxidative process triggered by sources such as chemical toxins and certain fats in the diet; from viruses, exposure to industrial pollutants and chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, toxins in household products, food dyes and cigarette smoke; and as a result of radiation exposure from, for example, X-rays, nuclear waste, electronic instruments and dental enamel caps. No exposure is too small to initiate cellular damage. The cumulative effect from various sources of cancer-causing substances stresses the immune system. It may take 5 to 30 years from the time of exposure to a carcinogen before a cancer actually appears.

Ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer; especially hazardous are midday sun and high altitudes because the rays have a shorter path to travel and less time to be filtered. The thinness of the ozone layer allows for stronger sun exposure. The kind of light used in tanning beds is also not safe. Topical applications for skin cancer that are beneficial are tea tree oil, a hot comfrey compress, or dry mustard poultice.

For women, breast and reproductive cancers can be caused by high levels of estrogen in the blood. Estrogen stimulates cell reproduction. Contributing to estrogen in the body are birth control pills and hormone replacement at menopause. Meat, poultry, and dairy foods may contain traces from animals that have been given the hormone for growth; and pesticides and industrial pollutants contain what are called xenoestrogens or foreign estrogens.

Cervical dysplasia is usually a precancerous lesion that if not treated can become cancerous. It is a condition of abnormal cells on the cervix surface. Pap smears, a sampling of cells, are taken to detect cancer of the cervix. Women susceptible to cervical cancer often have low nutrient levels such as vitamin C, the carotenoids, vitamin B6, and selenium. A folic acid deficiency can cause an abnormal papsmear; 10 mg daily for three months then 2.5 mg daily until Pap smears are normal is recommended.

Diet is a big factor in cancer. Foods can either promote or prevent the disease. Meats, high-fat foods, polyunsaturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, and excess alcohol are major cancer causers. Frying, grilling, broiling, and barbecuing foods produce cancer-causing chemicals. Studies have shown the more fruits and vegetables in the diet, the less the risk of cancer. Foods rich in antioxidants prevent free radicals from forming and can repair cellular damage. Practicing safe sex prevents the viral transmission that damages DNA or weakens the immune system. Exercise stimulates immune system function and for women, lowers the level of estrogen in the blood.

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