What causes cancer? Sometimes it seems like just about everything causes cancer–everything from overeating, or an excess of calories, fat, sugar, and protein, which appears to be responsible for such cancers as breast cancer and prostate cancer, to pollution, by poisons ranging from gasoline to vinyl chloride, which appears to be responsible for such cancers as liver and brain cancer. The list of cancer-causing chemicals is a mile long; in fact, in the book, Cancer Causing Chemicals (N. Irving Sax, 1981, Van Nostrand Reinhold), it fills 200 pages.

Edith Efron in her book, The Apocalyptics  (1984 Simon & Schuster) sums up the situation eloquently:

“Industrial carcinogens are susceptible to political action; one can ban products, one can close factories. Hypothetically, the whole Industrial Revolution could be turned off. But the carcinogens that have been reported here cannot be turned off; if the data or any significant portion of them are valid, they are expressions of laws of nature and even Congress in its wisdom cannot repeal them. This carcinogenic hell, the scientists are telling us, is the planet earth itself, and we cannot escape it. It is, consequently, a more awesome picture.

“It is also a picture of mind-boggling complexity. We see that carcinogens are reported to be every kind of thing: They are motionless crystals, flowing gases, liquids. They are everywhere: They rain down upon us from the skies, they radiate upward from crevices beneath the sea, from the rocks and the soil, they flow through the veins of plants and trees, they gush out in torrents from forests. They are alive: They grow, they crawl, they bloom, they blossom. And they are inside us: They are part of our vital physiological processes; they course through our bloodstream, they are in our saliva, in our digestive tracts. We inhale them, we drink them, and we feed on them ceaselessly, and in the act of absorbing them, we renew the needed supply in our bodies, for we cannot live without them; we ourselves are carcinogenic and radioactive beings. And even the act of dying is carcinogenic, for putrefaction, whether of plant or of animal, breeds new carcinogens. Were we to perish on a fiery bier, our broiling tissues and the very ash to which we were reduced would be carcinogenic. If these extraordinary data are valid, they tell us that in some ungraspable way the entire universe is implicated in the disease that is known as cancer…”


Yes, nature always seems to provide a way out; we just need to make the effort to look for it. The answer to this question can be found all around us and inside us and should soon become obvious to anybody who takes the time to observe and think. (We will explain what this means later.)

As an example of how “easy” it is to reverse some cancers, leukemia cells can be fairly easily converted back into normal cells. As the article below, Cell Differentiation and Malignancy, explains, all it takes to reverse leukemia is for the body to produce the right proteins–specifically, the Macrophage and Granulocyte Inducer Proteins, MGI-1 and MGI-2.

Cell Differentiation and Malignancy

By Leo Sachs

Department of Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel


“An understanding of the mechanism that controls growth and differentiation in normal cells would seem to be an essential requirement to elucidate the origin and reversibility of malignancy. For this approach I have mainly used normal and leukemic blood cells, and in most studies have used myeloid blood cells as a model system. Our development of systems for the in vitro cloning and clonal differentiation of normal blood cells made it possible to study the controls that regulate growth (multiplication) and differentiation of these normal cells and the changes in these controls in leukemia. Experiments with normal blood cell precursors have shown that normal cells require different proteins to induce growth and differentiation. We have also shown that in normal myeloid precursors, growth-inducing protein induces both growth and production of differentiation-inducing protein so this ensures the coupling between growth and differentiation that occurs in normal development. The origin of malignancy involves uncoupling of growth and differentiation. This can be produced by changes from inducible to constitutive expression of specific genes that result in asynchrony in the coordination required for the normal developmental program. Normal myeloid precursors require an external source of growth-inducing protein for growth, and we have identified different types of leukemic cells. Some no longer require and others constitutively produce their own growth-inducing protein. But addition of the normal differentiation-inducing protein to these malignant cells still induces their normal differentiation, and the mature cells are then no longer malignant…”



There are literally thousands of different chemicals that cause cancer, and before now, no one has discovered a common thread that ties all of them together. We believe that we have found that common thread, and we’ll tell you what it is in Chapters Six and Seven.

Here, briefly, is a list of some common chemicals that cause cancer:


Ammonia is believed to increase the risk of cancer, as the following excerpt from Nutritional Factors in the Induction & Maintenance of Malignancy by Denis Burkitt  1982 QZ200 N979   (UCSD Biomedical Library) indicates:

"The form of cancer that has been most specifically linked with Western diets is that involving the large bowel. All available evidence points to excessive fat in the diet as a causative factor (Wynder and Reddy, 1975) and adequate fiber as protective (Cummings, 1982; Burkitt, 1971b; Walker and Burkitt, 1976). Until recently, the former hypothesis was considered much the stronger, but during the last few years, the latter has been gaining increased acceptability.

“The mechanisms whereby dietary fiber is believed to protect against bowel cancer can be summarized as follows:

1. Dilution. Fiber, and cereal fiber in particular, increases fecal bulk and thus dilutes any fecal carcinogens.

2. Reducing contact time. By hastening passage of bowel contents, particularly through the colon, fiber reduces contact time between fecal carcinogens and the bowel mucosa.

3. Altering pH. By reducing fecal pH, fiber probably reduces bacterial degradation of cholesterol and primary bile acids into potential carcinogens. This has certainly been demonstrated in in vitro experiments (MacDonald et al., 1978).

4. Action of butyrate. Fiber increases butyrate, which has been shown to protect cells from malignant transformation (Hagopian et al., 1977).

5. Availability of ammonia. The proliferation of bacteria resulting from increased fiber intake uses up free nitrogen and thus reduces that available for ammonia formation. Ammonia is believed to increase susceptibility of cells to malignant transformation, so its reduction can be considered to be beneficial (Visek, 1972).”

The article above discusses how higher levels of bacteria are found in the colon with higher intakes of fiber, which result in lower levels of ammonia. Since ammonia is thought to increase the risk of cells turning cancerous, this would explain why populations that eat high fiber diets seem to have lower rates of colon cancer.     

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a strong tumor-creating gas, as the article excerpt below indicates. The reason why it causes brain tumors is because it is one of the few chemicals that can cross the "blood-brain barrier" that protects the brain from most toxic chemicals.

From "Poison is My Profession" by Gene Stone, Los Angeles Times Magazine, August 6, 1989:

“A family of Vietnamese refugees put charcoal in their fireplace and contracted carbon-monoxide poisoning; Bayer recommended that some of them be treated in hyperbaric chambers pumped with high levels of pure oxygen. The more pressing problem, the long-term effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning, was untreatable and could surface only a few weeks later in the form of a brain tumor.” 

Hydrochloric acid

Hydrochloric acid is carcinogenic, as the excerpt below from The Riddle of Cancer by Charles Oberling 1952 Yale University Press  QZ200 O123R (UCSD BML) indicates, although the experiment has been complicated by the addition of phthalic acid or 1, 2-benzene dicarboxylic acid. (A sarcoma is a cancer of connective tissue.)

 “Very curious results were reported by Suntzeff, Babcock, and Leo Loeb. These investigators injected mice repeatedly with a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid adjusted to pH 5 by means of acid potassium phthalate. Of 8 mice thus treated 4 had sarcomas 10 to 16 months later at the site of the injections.”

Hydrochloric acid and the other chemicals mentioned in this chapter seem to be just random causes of cancer, but, in reality, all of these causative factors fit in with our theory on the origin of cancer. We’ll tell you how they do so in Chapter Seven.


Nickel dust breathed into the nasal passages and lungs causes cancer. Nickel is used in the manufacture of alkali batteries, ceramics, coins, and other products. It is also used as a catalyst in the hydrogenation process for fats and oils. In order to keep fats like soybean and cottonseed oil from turning rancid through oxidation (combining with oxygen), hydrogen gas is bubbled through these heated oils to bond with the sites on the oil molecules that would normally be filled by oxygen atoms. This creates a product that has a much longer shelf life and is more solid (like margarine). The most important fact to remember about nickel is that it is a “reducing” agent. (The significance of this will be explained in more detail in later chapters.)


Nitrosamines are found in foods such as bacon, beer, and in tobacco products. They are formed when chemicals like sodium nitrite are added to foods to prevent botulism, which is a deadly form of food poisoning. These nitrites are converted into nitrosamines when they react with amines, which are organic derivatives of ammonia. Many types of nitrosamines exist and about 90% of them have been found to be carcinogenic in a wide variety of animals in the lab. The carcinogenic activity of nitrosamines can be prevented by the addition of vitamin C.



In a study by the American Institute for Cancer Research, it was found that when meat is cooked, compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed which have been linked with increased cancer risk in some animal studies. Studies in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute have shown that people who eat lots of charred or well-done meat are three to five times more likely to develop breast, colon and stomach cancer than those who consume it less often. Studies on mice have demonstrated that these HCAs collect in breast tissue and can cause changes in DNA.

Rancid Fats

Over forty percent of the calories of the typical American diet are due to fat. Fats and cholesterol are oxidized during cooking. Rancid or oxidized fats contain a wide variety of carcinogens and promoters of cancer, such as fatty acid hydroperoxides, endoperoxides, cholesterol epoxide, and free radicals. The colon and digestive tract are continually being exposed to these fat-derived carcinogens. Human breast fluid can also contain high levels of cholesterol epoxide, which is an oxidized form of cholesterol. (A good way to tell if you have had high levels of these oxidized fats is if you have lipofuscin, or “age spots,” on your skin.) Some dietary fatty acids are also converted to hydrogen peroxide, which is a carcinogen and promoter of cancer, when these fatty acids are oxidized.

Americans consume about twelve grams of trans fatty acids and an equal amount of cis fatty acids, mainly from hydrogenated vegetable fats every day. There is some controversy about whether trans and cis fatty acids cause cancer; more research on these fats is being done.


Free radicals are extremely reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. (Stable molecules have paired electrons.) They can damage DNA and cause wrinkling, premature aging, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E prevent free radicals from exerting their damaging effects. (See the section on vitamins in Chapter Three for more information on how vitamins prevent free radicals.)


There is a genetic component to cancer as well, although it is probably not as large as most people think. Scientists estimate that about 5-10% of cancers have genetic causes. A good example of a cancer with a genetic cause is retinoblastoma, which is a form of eye cancer that children usually under the age of five contract. There have been many studies that seem to indicate that cancer tends to run in families, but it is not known if there is a genetic component at work here, or if it is because members of a family generally share the same diet, environmental exposure to carcinogens, and so on. (More studies need to be done here, too.)


Hormone levels can have an effect on cancer. Testosterone increases blood levels of the bad cholesterol (known as LDL or low-density lipoprotein) and decreases levels of the good one (HDL or high-density lipoprotein), increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Estrogen, on the other hand, has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol. A University of Washington study found that estrogen produces these effects by regulating the activity of liver enzymes involved in cholesterol metabolism.

Estrogen is an antioxidant–i.e., it neutralizes free radicals. Estrogen given to a woman after menopause reduces her risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, and helps delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. One risk factor for cancer is early menarche (the beginning of menstruation). Another risk factor is late childbirth, or the age at which a woman’s first child is born. Women who never have children are at a much higher risk of cancers of the sexual organs.

We know that drugs that interfere with estrogen’s effect on the body can prevent breast cancer. This is exactly how drugs like Tamoxifen and the osteoporosis drug Raloxifene work, and how foods like soybeans are believed to prevent breast cancer. (Please see Chapter Three for more information about soybeans and phytoestrogens, which are plant-based sex hormones.)

Diethyl Stilbesterol (DES), which is an artificial female hormone sometimes given to women to relieve menopausal symptoms, causes cervical and vaginal cancer.

There is a hormonal component to prostate cancer, too. High levels of DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, have been found in men who have prostate cancer. Testosterone is converted by the enzyme alpha-reductase to DHT. (Baldness is caused by high levels of DHT and could be a harbinger of prostate cancer and other hormone-related cancers.)

Alcohol alters the levels of certain sex hormones, primarily in the liver, by converting testosterone to estrogen. Sugar can be converted to estrogen by bacteria in the stomach; this is another way that sweets cause obesity–besides being an “empty calorie” food that causes overeating to compensate for the lack of nutrition in foods that are high in sugar, estrogen increases fat in the body, whereas testosterone increases muscle. Consuming fat increases estrogen levels in the body, while eating meat, or muscle tissue, increases testosterone levels in the body. This may be another reason why eating large quantities of red meat has been associated with an increased risk of cancer–by increasing the formation of dihydrotestosterone.

ONCOGENES — Binary switches in cells that can turn cancer on and off

Oncogenes are a relatively recent discovery in the field of cancer research, and there was great hope at one time that they would provide a way to cure cancer. Oncogenes have been found in every cell in our body and in the bodies of all other living organisms, too. They seem to underscore the fact that cancer is an inextricable part of life, and that there must be a reason for cancer to exist. (We’ll tell you what that reason is in Chapter Nine.) Initially, it was thought that there was only one type of oncogene, and all we had to do was understand how it worked, and then discover how to turn it off. But then scientists discovered that there were two types of oncogenes: One to turn the cancer on, and one to turn it off, called the “anti-oncogene,” which actually turns cancer on when it is lost or inactivated. It was then found that oncogenes can mutate into new types of oncogenes, so even if we had a drug that worked against one type, the oncogene could change into another type, rendering the drug ineffective. And it was hoped that there would be only one oncogene per type of cancer, but it was soon discovered that this was not the case. Over 100 oncogenes have been discovered so far, but, unfortunately, each type of cancer doesn’t have its own type of oncogene. In Chapter Seven, we’ll tell you exactly where these oncogenes come from and how they fit into our theory on the origin of cancer.


We have all heard the admonition to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, but why does the sun cause cancer? What possible connection could life-giving sunlight have with cancer? We’ll tell you what that connection is in Chapter Seven.


Many studies have shown that a lack of exercise is a risk factor for cancer. The exact mechanism for why this should be true is not known, but it is believed that exercise improves the uptake of oxygen by the cells of the body and speeds up the elimination of wastes by improving the functioning of the cardiovascular and digestive systems. Physical activity also reduces the amount of circulating LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, and lowers the levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men. All of these factors and more are probably why exercise reduces the risk for cancer.


Smoking is a well-known risk factor for cancers of all kinds (not just lung cancer). There are approximately forty-three known carcinogens in cigarette smoke.


Cat owners may be familiar with a disease that their pets can contract called feline leukemia, which is caused by a virus. Other viruses and the cancers they cause are:

Epstein-Barr virus (also causes mononucleosis)  
Pharyngeal cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Helicobacter pylori (also causes ulcers) [actually, this is a bacterium] 
Stomach cancer
Hepatitis B
Liver cancer
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
Lymphoma, Kaposi’s Sarcoma
Cervical cancer, Oral cancer

Why do viruses cause cancer? How can they possibly be related to other causes of cancer like chemicals or radiation? There will be more on this relationship in Chapter Seven.


Some scientists think that viruses evolved from bacteria that had just about everything stripped away from them except their RNA or DNA and their outer coating or shell. (This theory on the evolution of viruses fits in perfectly with our theory on the origin of cancer, as we will explain in Chapter Seven.) Viruses evolved a survival strategy of “less is more,” i.e., they chose a strategy of trimming down so they could move and reproduce fast. They also possess the ability to form spores and enter a dormant stage when conditions around them are less than favorable. These spores are crystalline in nature and are able to withstand extremes of temperature and survive exposure to extremely high levels of radiation. In fact, viruses can even withstand the rigors of travel in outer space. In many respects, viruses seem to be a transition stage between inorganic matter and organic matter, or between the non-living and living. Because there are two types of viruses, RNA and DNA viruses, and RNA is a simpler molecule than DNA, some scientists think that viruses evolved first, before bacteria.

Viruses replicate themselves by finding plant, animal, or bacterial cells, then attaching themselves to the surfaces of these cells and injecting their RNA or DNA into the interior of the cells. This RNA or DNA then attacks the host cell’s RNA or DNA and converts it into a miniature virus factory, which churns out copies of the virus. The cells then usually disintegrate and release copies of the virus into the organism at large to infect more cells in that organism, or into the surrounding environment to infect other nearby organisms.


Is there a common thread that runs through all of these diverse causes of cancer? We’re convinced there is, and we’ll tell you what that common thread is in Chapter Seven.



1) Carcinogens are everywhere. They exist in our bodies and in our environment. They cannot be legislated out of existence.

2) The only hope we have then is to avoid the obvious carcinogens like smoking, too much sun, too much meat, etc., and try to keep our immune systems strong throughout our lives.

3) Cancer seems to be reversible. Some cancers, like some forms of leukemia, seem to be fairly “easy” to reverse. 

4) The basic causes of cancer can be grouped into three categories: chemicals, radiation, and viruses.

5) There is a common thread that runs through all three categories. We’ll explain what that common thread is in a later chapter.

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© Copyright 2014. Phil Matsumoto. All rights reserved.


Last updated on 10/12/2014.