Tag Archives: Cancer

Infection Is a Risk Factor for Cancer

We have discussed the association of salmonella typhi with gallbladder cancer in the last post. Let’s look at more examples on this topic.

Helicobacter pylori is linked to both gastric cancer and MALT lymphoma (a form of lymphoma involving the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, often in the stomach); Chlamydia pneumoniae to lung cancer; Streptococcus bovis and/or Enteroccocus faecalis to colon cancer.

Although research has shown that certain bacteria are associated with human cancers, their role in cancer is of complex. Convincing evidence links some species to the formation of cancer while others appear promising in the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of cancers. However, you might wonder how bacteria infection could lead to cancer. Here I provide you some insights.

Bacteria may cause cancer through:

1. Chronic infection. Some bacterial toxins can negatively impact the process that controls the normal cell cycle and cell growth, others disrupt the cellular signaling pathways that regulate normal cell death, consequently promoting cancerous growth. In addition, infection-induced immune response may release immune modulating substances from inflammatory cells, contributing to carcinogenesis.

2. DNA damage. Bacteria can produce free radicals – very unstable but highly reactive with other molecules. They can bind to DNA and cause DNA mutation, thereby altering the genes that control normal cell division and cell death. Cancer is initiated when uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells takes place.

3. Weakened or suppressed immune system. The immune system is an important line of defense for any toxins or diseases including cancer. Toxins or pathogens sometimes can get away from the host’s immune system to survive, and then modify one’s immune function. When its function is compromised, the immune system no longer recognizes and fights bacteria or toxins as foreign bodies, nor gets rid of them.

That being said, don’t panic. A majority of individuals will not develop cancer after infection by a cancer-causing agent. However, be conscious and alert. The facts are:

  1. Certain individuals are more susceptible to cancer-causing infections.
  2. Incidence of certain cancers may vary among populations or geographic regions.
  3. It often takes years or decades between acquiring the infection and getting cancer.


Chronic infection is a risk factor for cancer. Staying away from or treating the infection may prevent it.

Photo illustration: Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells

Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

Salmonella Infection — How to Avoid the Risk

Do you eat eggs? They are nutrient-rich, esp. vitamin D-rich food. Now you know eggs can also be a source of food poisoning, based on the fact that Salmonella outbreaks drove a nationwide egg recall recently. The New York Times reported that a half billion eggs have been recalled because of possible contamination with salmonella.

Today we focus on top 3 takeaways from this incident.

First, who is most vulnerable to salmonella infection?

Salmonella infections cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, as well as fever. Usually symptoms of infection begin 12 to 72 hours after consuming contaminated foods/ beverages, and last 4 to 7 days. However, some cases can be serious and even fatal. In particular, the following populations are at high risk:

  • young children
  • elderly or frail individuals
  • people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy

Second, what precautions can you take to eliminate the risk of infection?

Again, the food safety system has failed to eliminate salmonella threat. Therefore, you need to take some precautions to protect yourself and your family from food poisoning or bacteria infection. Based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and my own practice, I’ve compiled the following eggs/poultry safety Dos and Don’ts.


The Don’t list:

  1. Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs.
  2. Don’t use raw eggs for salad dressing or homemade ice cream.
  3. Don’t handle food, esp. cooked food or ready-to-eat food before washing your hands.
  4. Don’t consume unpasteurized milk or any raw dairy products.
  5. Don’t eat restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked eggs.
  6. Don’t prepare food or serve food/drink for others when you’re infected by salmonella.

The Do list:

  1. Do wash your hands thoroughly after handling poultry and anytime before preparing foods, especially cooked or ready-to-eat items.
  2. Do thoroughly wash the cutting board, involved counter surface, knives, utensils and containers/plates after handling uncooked poultry or foods.
  3. Do separate the cutting board or plates for raw food from those for cooked or uncooked ready-to-eat food to avoid cross-contamination; — a practice that many folks overlook.
  4. Do throw away any cracked or dirty eggs.
  5. Do keep eggs or egg-containing foods refrigerated at 45oF or lower.
  6. Do cook eggs until they are well-done (i.e., both yolks and whites are firm).
  7. Do judge or determine whether meat or poultry is cooked or safe to eat by a food thermometer when in doubt, not by food color or poking depth.
  8. Do make sure to cook any egg mixture (casseroles or cakes/pies) until the center of the mixture reaches a safe temperature level.

Third, is Salmonella infection linked to cancer risks?

The relationship between bacterial infection and cancer is rather complicated in the way that bacteria can either cause one type of cancer or protect from the other type of cancer or both. Here we only look at the link between salmonella bacteria and cancer – it’s like two sides of a coin.

There is a close association between mixed bacterial and salmonella infections with the carcinogenesis of cancer, particularly gallbladder cancer – a cancer with a poor prognosis. Even though one infection won’t get you cancer, repeated bacterial infections or chronic infections may lead to cancer development. Therefore, don’t overlook infection. As WHO advocated, preventing infection is one strategy to prevent cancer.

Reversely, the same bacterium, salmonella, has been found as a potential strategy to fight melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. Specifically, research showed that injecting salmonella (of course, in a safe form) into cancerous mice and cancer cells from human melanoma increased an immune-killing response to tumor cells through elevating immune surveillance.

In short, food hygiene and food safety measures are always worthwhile for your overall health.

Photo credits:  by andar; by g-point

Cancer Got a New Name – Numbers of Human Toll and Economic Burden

“Cancer’s human toll, in terms of suffering and death, is tragic and largely preventable.” Also, cancer is the world’s top “economic killer” and likely the leading cause of death, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society presented at 2010 World Cancer Congress in China (Aug. 18-21).

The following figures illustrate cancer costs globally and nationally:

“We now know that without immediate intervention, the burden of cancer will grow enormously in low- and middle income countries, with demands on health care systems and economic costs that are more than these developing economies can bear,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

The good news is that approximately 40% of cancers are potentially preventable – a message from the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The question is: Is there any way to fight cancer at a lower economic cost?

Cancer prevention by daily nutrition through a healthy diet is, at least, one effective strategy that can be put into action by individuals in a broader population with less economic burden.

Think about it. What do you do to your body? What does the environment do to your body? And what does the society promote (fat, fast food,…)?

“Sow melon, reap melon; sow beans, reap beans.” ─ Chinese Proverb

A Special Memory of Martha

We lost Martha Anne Thornburg, 52, recently. I was always inspired by her smile and gratitude even during those difficult days of fighting cancer. Her loving husband of 27 years, Jon E. Thornburg wrote a touching and beautiful letter to Martha at her funeral service. I sincerely appreciate his sharing this special memory here.

“For my dear Martha,

On our first date, we came across a dog hit by a car, lying on the side of the road. We decided to pick it up and take it to the vet clinic at Purdue. That was one of the first clues of Martha’s love for strays; dogs, cats, and later on she even agreed to take me in and give my life purpose. She had a boundless love for family and friends and heaven help those that ever tried to hurt someone she loved.

Martha had a personality and a smile that was contagious. That smile, given often, given freely, and given genuinely; you just had to love her. She was diligent and loved puzzles and to solve problems. When presented a problem she would jump into it and find a dozen ways to solve it while making it seem so simple. As many know, anyone who received teasing by Martha knew another side of her personality. She loved to laugh, joke and tease; and she could keep a straight face through the punch line of a prank or joke.

Martha loved to give and to share. She gave of herself; and what she had without limits, usually as long as nobody knew she was the one giving. I do not believe she ever took a bow or showed off anything, even though she had volumes of accomplishments to show and brag on, but that wasn’t her way, except for her kids. She was forever proud of Jessica, Andrea, and Jimmy. She raised three children who have kind and tender hearts, giving and forgiving, polite and a strong sense of family and friendship. She loved and was proud of her babies.

Martha loved to sing, she could be walking along, sitting, and reading or watching a show; or doing almost anything, and a song would come to her and she would start singing. Sometimes when driving she would have to stay in the car a little longer when stopped so the song on the radio could finish, and she was usually singing along with it.

Martha grew daily in her spirituality in her love of Christ and her awe and fear of GOD. She studied the word, questioned and sought answers, and had the faith of no one else I know. When the Holy Spirit came to her, she accepted and was whole-heartedly grateful, and she knew her life had really begun. She truly put her love, trust and soul in God’s hands.

I am going to miss her. I don’t know why Martha loved me, or ever agreed to be my bride, but I’m eternally grateful and proud she did. I loved her and always will.”

Our deepest condolences to Martha’s family.

Green Leafy Vegetables Help Reduce Cancer Risks

Research shows that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables has been associated with reduced risks for several cancers. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of potential cancer-inhibitory nutrients and antioxidants. Today, let’s just focus on dark green leafy vegetables.

Dark green leafy vegetable family includes the following members commonly available on the market:
* Spinach
* Kale
* Collard Greens
* Mustard Greens
* Swiss chard
* Romaine Lettuce
* Bok Choy

Key cancer protective factor
Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in folate, a group of water-soluble B vitamins.

Key role in cancer prevention
Folate’s primary function is to maintain DNA integrity. Free radicals generated by sunlight, cigarette smoke, air pollution, infection, toxins, and metabolism constantly attack our DNA and cause much of the damage. Without DNA repair, damaged cells can develop into cancer. Folate keeps up DNA stability by regulating DNA biosynthesis, repair and methylation.

Let me explain a little bit more about DNA methylation. Plainly speaking, it involves the addition of a methyl group to DNA structure. DNA methylation patterns go wrong in cancer, often causing tumor-suppressor genes to switch off; which occurs in common cancers in the United States, such as colon, lung, prostate, and breast cancer.

Accumulating evidence indicates that inappropriate diet may contribute to one third of cancer deaths. Folate deficiency has been implicated in the development of several types of cancer, including cancer of the colorectum, breast, ovary, pancreas, brain, lung and cervix.

Key sources for safe intake
To safely and effectively increase folate intake, you should consume dark green leafy vegetables, and other naturally folate-rich foods like asparagus, strawberries, and legumes. Supplements are not preferred, as recent studies indicate that an excessive intake of synthetic folic acid (either high-dose supplements or fortified foods) may promote human cancer.

So, eat a lot of green leafy vegetables every day. They are loaded with cancer protective phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients. Also, you enjoy other health benefits beyond cancer prevention.

How do you incorporate dark green leafy vegetables into your daily diet?

Photo credit: By mahr; By jonsson; and By Sultry

Tomatoes and Tomato-rich Diet on Cancer Prevention

Tomatoes are loaded with a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants, delivering a broad range of health benefits… What you can take away from this post is how to maximize its cancer prevention potential through an easy, tasty diet.

Lycopene found in tomatoes is a strong antioxidant, and has been suggested to function as a protective factor against prostate cancer. Also, there is controversy raised over “Lycopene or tomato extract reduces prostate cancer risk”. Thus, the impact of tomatoes on prostate cancer risk holds no established promise for now.

However, there is a large body of evidence — that a diverse diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, as well as that of other cancers.

Countless combination of tomatoes with fruits and veggies can serve you a heart healthy and cancer prevention diet. Here I share a very simple one based on my own experience – fresh tomatoes and basil leaves from the homegrown garden.

The dishes you can make:
1. Tomato basil salad
2. Tomato basil pasta
3. Tomato basil soup
4. Tomato basil sauce
5. Tomato basil pasta salad (my favorites — whole wheat pasta, Farfalle pasta)
6. Add shrimp or chicken to tomato basil dishes.
7. Add other colorful veggies or healthy ingredients to tomato basil dishes or sandwiches.
You’ve got the idea….

To make it delicious and healthy, certainly mix the dish with such ingredients as olive oil, garlic, or lemon juice, but little or no salt.

Tip: Basil herb is better used fresh in cooked dishes, either as marinate or garnish, or toss — add at the last moment, as cooking dissolves its flavor.

Remember, one nutrient alone won’t help you combat any cancer. The key is to regularly consume a variety of nutrients and antioxidants from natural food sources, as the overall benefits of a fruit-vegetable-rich diet on cancer prevention are validated.

How often do you eat tomatoes? What’s your favorite recipe with tomato? We appreciate it if you share.

Photo credit: by topfer

The infection may be gone, but the risk may not.

My father had pulmonary tuberculosis nearly 4 decades ago. Clinically, it had been considered healed tuberculosis after timely treatment along with years of monitoring. Even until 2 years ago before diagnosis of lung cancer, the only thing showing on his chest X-ray was a localized calcification (i.e., calcium deposition, a mark of healed lesion in his case) without any visible changes. Also, he was symptomless concerning any upper-respiratory diseases. Unexpectedly, there were some lung malignancies clearly showing on his very last chest X-ray in 2009 — one that appeared significantly different compared with the one taken 2 years prior.

Virus_1259076_untitledThere are countless similar stories regarding the link between personal histories of infectious diseases and cancer. A friend of mine died of liver cancer in his 40s — a real tragedy given his age. It turned out that he had hepatitis (infected with hepatitis B virus) when he was young.

It’s scientifically proven with regards to infection-associated cancer. Pancreatic inflammation appears to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, and some patients with pancreatic cancer had history of pancreatitis. A history of urinary tract infection is currently accepted as a risk factor for developing bladder cancer, and has been positively linked to the development of renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), with notably elevated risks for men with a history of smoking.

An infective agent is linked to some of the most common cancers. Human papilloma virus (HPV, also called “wart virus”) is responsible for cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers affecting women. A two-fold danger exists with this disease. First, HPV is highly transmissible and considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in most populations; second, most women infected with the virus may become negative within 2 years, or HPV infection can persist for years in the body without causing any problems. However, women with persistent high-risk HPV infections are at the greatest risk for developing cervical cancer. A recent study showed that a sexually transmitted bacterial infection (known as trichomoniasis) has been linked to increased risk for advanced prostate cancer – the illness that strikes nearly 200,000 American men each year.

We can go on and on …

This doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer if you have any infection or inflammation, because infection alone usually does not lead to cancer. However, it does mean that you need to control your infection, get it treated timely, and thereafter be vigilant about any cancer risk factors and live a healthy lifestyle.

Photo credit: by Leonardini