How is it possible that healthy people can get cancer?

Isn’t it suppose to be the other way around? In other words, I mean that people who don’t take care of their health and eat fatty, unhealthy foods get cancer. I doesn’t make sense when healthy people like healthy non-smoking, healthy people get lung cancer. Despite healthy people eating the right and healthy foods with good exercise, how is it possible that these people who take good care of themselves get cancer?

Cancer is much better known today but yet there are many things that we don’t know. If we knew why cells become immortal and why they loose the information about dying, then cancer would not exist.

Genetics are a factor. Also smokes and smug have an influence. Something that you can’t get rid of if you live a city. Contamination is around you, and that’s a lot of chemistry and strange substances that you breath in your body.

I suppose the answer is the same as to the question why healthy people get killed in car accidents.

[FONT=“Georgia”]Cancer is caused by DNA damage.

A cancer is swarm of identical, rogue cells, which copy themselves over and over again, taking up more and more space, and using more and more resources (Oxygen, energy, space, etc.). A benign tumor’s cells eventually stops replicating. A malignant tumor (a cancer) never stops.

Right, so DNA…

As you know, DNA is a cell’s issue of instructions for copying itself, so having damaged DNA is like having a scratched CD, the data is corrupted. And if you put that CD in a burner and made copies, you’d get copies of that corrupt data. Fun, eh ?

So here’s the interesting part. Your cells have built-in regulations to prevent the progression of “corrupted data”. Your cells scan themselves continually and if they find their DNA to be damaged they self-destruct through “apoptosis”.

(“Apoptosis” is also how your body handles the flu’, so that’s possibly one reason why you feel weak. It’s a good idea to eat lots of protein when you’re sick so you’d have materials to make new, replacement cells.)

Your cells also have a fixed number of times which they are allowed to replicate, determined by the length of their chromosomes’ [URL=“”]telomeres.

Each time one of your cells replicates, its telomeres shorten a little. When telomeres get too short, the cell no longer can copy itself, and instead ages until it dies.

However, damage to the correct part of a cell’s DNA, can induce the cell’s internal regulations to switch off. A cell whose telomeres never shorten, for example, will be able to go on replicating indefinitely. And it does. And that mass of cells is what makes up cancerous growths.

So what causes DNA damage ?

Here’s where I finally answer your question.

DNA can be “damaged” by internal mutations, genetic errors passed on through generations.

Or through exposure to chemical “carcinogens”, substances which for various reasons promote cancer. Smoke, rancid oils, etc.

OR though radiation. Radiation is a stream of sub-atomic particles emitted by a source. These sub-atomic particles can slam into cells and physically damage them… or physically damage their DNA :smiley: . “Scratching the CD,” so to speak. And, as I said above, if the right part of the DNA is damaged, the cell may lose its internal regulation.

So you can see there why a healthy person, who doesn’t smoke, who doesn’t eat carcinogenic foods, can still possibly develop cancer, if (in this example) he is exposed to too much strong radiation, to the point that some of his body’s cells experience the right kind of DNA damage.

That’s one possibility. I’m sure there are others out there and we’ll discover more in future.


[FONT=“Georgia”]oo oo… A related note which I think is interesting.

Radiation can physically damage machines too. The solar wind, for example, can damage our satellites… it even did damage to the Hubble Telescope, according to a thing I saw on Discovery the other night (though I can’t seem to find more about that online).

Astronauts, as healthy as they are, cannot space-walk for too long while orbiting some regions of the Earth, or the radiation of solar wind and cosmic rays may put them at risk for cancer (or kill them outright…).


Great posts Shaun :slight_smile:

Yea great work Shaun (or should we prefix you with Dr.) :smiley:

The stuff you can learn on SP :lol: I am of the opinion that genetics predisposes certain people to cancer inasmuch that if two people were to be exposed to exactly the same hazards, lifestyle etc; the person with the genetic disposition is more likely to get cancer. Which is why you meet some people in their nineties still merrily puffing away on their cigarettes and sinking a few pints of Guinness every day while others are in their box in their twenties. I guess it’s evolution still in play.
(OK I know that’s what SoD said, I just wanted to join in)

You are only healthy till you get sick.

Correction: You are only healthy till you get sick… or dead. :wink:

[FONT=“Georgia”]It may well be that some genetic influences offer some persons’ DNA more resistance to damage, directly or indirectly.

Something I saw on Youtube with Richard Dawkins mentioned by the way that there are moderately strong genetic factors making smoking more dangerous for some individuals more than others.

And I’m sure the same is true for each of those other things people enjoy that may be dangerous. Italian people, through generations of eating insane amounts of olive oil, may today be more resistant to heart-disease and high blood-pressure for example.


I think it is also because cancer sometimes hereditary so no matter healthy you are, your lifestyle is good but when it’s in your genes you can’t really avoid it.

The reason why Mediterranean countries are more resistant to heart-disease and blood pressure is because we use olive oil for everything (salads, cooking, sauces). Olive oil is a natural cholesterol cotroller which can’t be said of all vegeable oils. We even eat olives for snack!

There is little to zero saturated fats in classical mediterranean food.

As mentioned above, you have no control over your genetics, and little control over the environment.

Bad diet, smoking, stress all increase the chances of getting cancer, but this does not mean a healthy lifestyle totally eradicates the chances of getting it.

And then bad diet & lifestyle can affect different people in different ways. So some people smoke and live to be 90, whereas others will get lung cancer in their 30’s. Just because a few survives does not make it healthy though.

Being healthy increases your chances of living longer. Every little bit helps.

ah okay. I’m taking your word on that seeing as you’re the “all foods natural” girl :stuck_out_tongue:

[FONT=“Georgia”]In which case, I’ll be wrong; It wouldn’t be genetic selection (weeding out those who couldn’t handle the diet, leaving behind those more resistant to heart-disease) but the oil itself that’s helpful.

Too bad we couldn’t grab a couple hundred Italian people and run tests on them…


Genetics are always important but Mediterranean cooking is known to be healthier in general for its variety and balance, a bit of wine during the meals, and olive oil.

Regarding heart attacks, olive oil naturally reduces the amount of bad cholesterol leaving the good one and hence it is better for the heart. A glass of red wine a day is said to help the heart. And all of these countries drink wine during the meals, traditionally.

And I am not talking about Italy. I know, I know, Italian food is better known only to be followed by French food… But there are some other coutries there too… Greece, as an example… and of course, SPAIN :stuck_out_tongue:

And although Spanish food is the big unknown, it is better than Italian a proud Spaniard leaves the room

[FONT=“Georgia”]When I try to imagine Spanish food I can’t help but think of Mexican instead.


:eek: :frowning:

I know. Typical Spanish food is unknown. Except, maybe, paella.

MMMMM. Spanish food. I love it just as much as Italian food and Greek food too. All the Mediterranean food is really quite related because of the history of migration and conquering. All use the good olive oil, garlic – the stuff of life :smiley:

Spanish food is very different from Mexican food.

[FONT=“Georgia”]I know it would be, but somehow all that sticks out in my mind is tacos.

What is paella ?