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Cancers as Systemic Functional Diseases, Part 1: Defining the Cancer Domain

Jeffrey Bland, PhD, FACN, FACB

Cancer represents a very different disease than other chronic diseases in the minds of both health professionals and patients. Even though heart disease is the cause of death for many more people than cancer, it engenders less signifi cant fear and social stigma than cancer does. This is undoubtedly because it is generally felt that we know much less about the origin and treatment of cancer than heart disease and that there is some sense of “personal responsibility” for cancer. Over the past decade, the understanding of the etiology of cancer has started to emerge as in part a systemic functional disorder associated with alteration in cellular biology associated with dedifferentiation, proliferation, angiogenesis, and metastasis.

In the broadest sense, it is now recognized that cancer is really “cancers.” Each person’s cancer has a slightly different molecular and cellular biology associated with it. This makes treatment of cancer via a “one size fits all” therapy virtually impossible, and in a sense, each cancer patient becomes his or her own clinical experiment without a control. To manage cancer more effectively, therefore, it is important to identify common functional characteristics that different cancers share. In this two-part series of articles, the concept of cancer as a systemic functional disorder will be developed, and a general framework of managing disorders associated with malignant cellular proliferation will be described based upon this model. In part 1 of this series, the establishment of a cellular milieu characteristic of cancers will be developed, and in part 2, a clinical approach based on the functional medicine concept of the diathesis of cancer derived from the understanding of its antecedents, triggers, mediators, signs, and symptoms will be described.

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