If you or a loved one are facing cancer or trying to prevent it, it is helpful to know what may have caused it, to make some sense of this very frightening disease.

There are currently two major theories as to the cause of cancer. Both of them developed about a century ago.

The Somatic Mutation Theory of Cancer – (Soma = relating to the body)

This theory suggests that one cell (soma) has mutated (changed or been damaged) by a substance which is unspecified.  It is then assumed that every time this damaged cell makes copies of itself and divides to produce daughter cells, the ‘daughter’ cells will have similar genetic (DNA) to the parent cell. Therefore, the search was to find the cancer gene.

When, twenty years ago, the whole genetic makeup of the human being was unravelled, there was great excitement. The next step, certainly for oncologists, was to look for the genetic makeup of cancer. It was assumed, by many, that just as there is a human genome, so there is a cancer genome. Once this was discovered, it was thought that a drug or treatment could then be developed to deal with it, and cancer would be solved.

To the surprise of the medical world, they found thousands of different genetic patterns in the cells of even one single tumour mass.  This showed that their theory was wrong.  But as I heard, at a recent lecture at the Royal Society of Medicine: “We now know that the theory is wrong, but it is the only one we have, so we continue to use it.”

As a scientist, almost since childhood, I was appalled at this. How can you build on a foundation that is wrong? You have to wonder how you can be successful in treating a disease when your theory as to how it develops is wrong, and you have no alternative suggestions.

The speaker went on to say, in answer to questions, that chemotherapy increases the invasiveness of cancer, and that radiation breaks the host DNA into fragments that can then re-form into chaotic groupings, thus increasing the risk of subsequent development of new cancer in the future.

The Metabolic Theory of Cancer

This theory has grown out of the work and ideas of Dr Otto Warburg, first postulated almost a century ago. It has since been developed further by a number of eminent scientists.  It has been further explained and expanded on the basis of our current understanding of cellular and physiological biochemistry.  This is described in detail in a recent and impressive book by Thomas Seyfried  ‘Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.’  It starts when our mitochondria become damaged. Mitochondria are best known as the energy-producing tiny organelles within our cells. However, they have other functions and one of these is the detection and elimination of the damaged cells that are constantly formed by the inevitable errors that occur during the process of cellular reproduction. Without this ‘quality control’ function of the mitochondria, when cellular reproduction produces faulty cells the mitochondria are no longer active in destroying them.  These faulty cells can then grow on, as mutated and damaged cells, and build into tumours.

Warburg postulated that mitochondrial function was compromised by very basic changes within the cell environment: lack of oxygen, lack of all the essential nutrients needed by the mitochondria, by the presence of toxins that interfered with normal mitochondrial function, and by the consequences of stress. These four factors will inevitably be common to mitochondria in all or many cells, leading to a variety of different mutations, as different errors are allowed to persist. So on this basis, it is no surprise that you can find thousands of different mutations in a single tumour.

To Warburg and his successors, cancer can be prevented by avoiding any of these four groups of errors.  Additionally, recovery can be encouraged, enormously and harmlessly, by correcting these errors.  Neither prevention nor recovery can be achieved by simply destroying the ongoing production of damaged cells, enabling remaining ones to build into further tumours.

The consequence of the Somatic Mutation view is:

The toxic attempts to kill and destroy the tumours as they form, almost always harming the host in the process.

The consequence of the Metabolic view is:

The non-toxic attempt to rebuild normal good health, right down to the cellular level, to restore homoeostasis and wellbeing.

[to be continued…..]