Cancer is quite possibly the worst thing to happen to this world. It breaks hearts, destroys lives, weakens everyone involved, and there is no cure at the moment. But how would you feel if we told you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel? Literally. A light.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells divide uncontrollably. These cells destroy body tissue, killing the body of it’s victim. The most common forms of cancer are…
- Breast cancer: forms in cells of the breasts
- Prostate cancer: in a man’s prostate which is a small gland shaped like a walnut. This gland produces seminal fluid.
- Basal cell cancer: skin cancer that begins in basal cells
- Melanoma: skin cancer. The most dangerous form.
- Colon cancer: in the color or rectum, in the digestive tract’s lower end.
- Lung cancer: in the lungs. Most common in smokers.
- Leukemia: attacks the blood forming tissues. Lowers ability to fight infection.
- Lymphoma: in the lymphatic system.
Because there are so many different forms of cancer, the symptoms vary from case to case. Depending on the part of the body that is affected, the symptoms can greatly vary. However, there are some general signs that are associated with cancer. We have borrowed a list of symptoms/signs from MayoClinic, a credible medical website. They are:
- Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin
- Weight changes, including unintended loss or gain
- Skin changes, such as yellowing, darkening or redness of the skin, sores that won’t heal, or changes to existing moles
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Persistent cough or trouble breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent indigestion or discomfort after eating
- Persistent, unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Persistent, unexplained fevers or night sweats
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
If you have any of these symptoms or know someone that does, do not jump to conclusions, but it is smart consult with a doctor if any of these symptoms are persistent.
Cancer is brought about by mutations/changes to the DNA inside of cells. Here’s how it works. The DNA within a cell is packaged into a large number of separate genes. Each of these genes has a set of instructions that lets the cell know which functions it has to perform. It also instructs it on how to grow and divide. When there are errors in these instructions cells can stop their normal functions. This can cause the cells to become cancerous.
MayoClinic explains that there are three things a gene mutation can do. They can grow, stop growing, or make mistakes. To explain these three common mutations, MayoClinic writes that a gene mutation can instruct a healthy cell to…
- Allow rapid growth. A gene mutation can tell a cell to grow and divide more rapidly. This creates many new cells that all have that same mutation.
- Fail to stop uncontrolled cell growth. Normal cells know when to stop growing so that you have just the right number of each type of cell. Cancer cells lose the controls (tumor suppressor genes) that tell them when to stop growing. A mutation in a tumor suppressor gene allows cancer cells to continue growing and accumulating.
- Make mistakes when repairing DNA errors. DNA repair genes look for errors in a cell’s DNA and make corrections. A mutation in a DNA repair gene may mean that other errors aren’t corrected, leading cells to become cancerous.
These mutations are the most common ones found in cancer. But many other gene mutations can contribute to causing cancer. (mayoclinic.org)
There are many reasons why gene mutations/changes can happen. They occur quite often during normal cell growth. While our cells are equipped with a mechanism that can detect when a mistake happens and it can fix it, some mistakes are missed. This is when they can become cancerous.
Gene mutations can occur for a few different reasons. You can be born with them. You can inherit a gene mutation from your parents. This is a small percentage rate. Most mutations are not inherited and occur after birth. Smoking, radiation, viruses, carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation, and a lack of exercise can all cause cancer.
Light Therapy & Cancer…
Scientists at Tufts University in Boston have recently been breaking ground with their light therapy cancer research study. Michael Levin is a biologist and head of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Development Biology and he is quoted as saying, “we call this whole research program cracking the biological code.” Levin and his team have successfully used optogenics, a new form of light therapy, to prevent and reverse tumors in frog embryos..
During optogenics, a substance is injected into the subject of the experiment. The goal is to bring the subject back to the healthy subject it was before it was injected.
In the optogenics experiments at Tufts University, researchers injected frog embryos with two types of genes. One gene was meant to predispose them to cancer and one was meant to produce light-sensitive ion channels in tumor cells. Ion channels are passageways. They go in and out of a cell and open when responding to specific signals. When these passageways are open, the movement of ions in or out of a cell creates an electrical signal, which is what the researchers were aiming to create. Michael Levin, the head of the experiment, explained that “The idea is much like the brain, when neuroscientists try to figure out the semantics of electrical states in the brain. We try to figure out how patterns are encoded in electrical states in the body.”
The researchers exposed the embryos to light in order to activate the ion channels on the tumor cells. When these channels were activated and the electrical signals in the cells were adjusted, the researchers report that they were successful at preventing and reversing tumor formation in 30% of the embryos. One of the researchers explained that when they blinked the blue light at the tumor for 24 hours the tumor went away.
Why Is This So Important?
Being able to locate and understand the electrical patterns in our cells opens up an entirely new world in cancer research and light therapy. It is now possible to control the speed at which cells divide as well as the information they share with the cells surrounding them. Levin explains that “The electrical communication amongst cells is really important for tumor suppression. The bigger picture is to understand how these voltages are passed among cells and how they control the transfer of chemical signals among cells.”
It is still not known whether or not optogenics can be used to treat cancer in people, but experiments will begin soon on mammals. The important thing to note here is how far science has come and how crucial light therapy may be in the treatment of cancer.
Light to treat cancer! We’ll keep you with more news on these incredible experiments.