Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate

Often thought of as a modern disease, cancer has always been with us. Where scientists disagree is on how much it has been amplified by the sweet and bitter fruits of civilization.

As scientists continue to investigate...cancer is not entirely civilization’s fault. In the normal course of life a creature’s cells must be constantly dividing — millions of times a second. Sometimes something will go wrong.

“Cancer is an inevitability the moment you create complex multicellular organisms and give the individual cells the license to proliferate,” said Dr. Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute. “It is simply a consequence of increasing entropy, increasing disorder.”

He was not being fatalistic. Over the ages bodies have evolved formidable barriers to keep rebellious cells in line. Quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthier diets and taking other preventive measures can stave off cancer for decades. Until we die of something else.

“If we lived long enough,” Dr. Weinberg observed, “sooner or later we all would get cancer.”

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