New York: Offering a new explanation for what drives cancer, recent research has shown that cells with cancerous mutations can suddenly find themselves most fit, allowing their population to expand when the tissue ecosystem changes due to ageing, smoking, or other stressors.
Arguing against the commonly held “accumulation of mutations” model of cancer, the study favors a model that depends on evolutionary pressures acting on populations of cells. It, therefore, contends that the ecosystem of a healthy tissue landscape lets healthy cells out compete ones with cancerous mutations.
This new thinking about what drives cancer development may have profound implications for cancer therapy and drug design.
“We have been trying to make drugs that target mutations in cancer cells,” said study senior author James DeGregori, associate director for basic science at University of Colorado Cancer Center in the US.
“But if it is the ecosystem of the body, and not only cancer-causing mutations, that allows the growth of cancer, we should also be prioritizing interventions and lifestyle choices that promote the fitness of healthy cells in order to suppress the emergence of cancer,” said DeGregori.
The proposed model, presented in the journal PNAS, helps to answer a longstanding question in cancer science known as Peto’s Paradox — if cancer is due to random activating mutation, larger animals with more cells should be at greater risk of developing the disease earlier in their lives.
Well, then why do mammals of vastly different sizes and lifespans all seem to develop cancer mostly late in life? The answer to this proposed by researchers is that in addition to activating mutation, cancer may require age-associated changes to the tissue landscape in order for evolution to favor the survival and growth of cancer cells over the competition from healthy cells.
California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.
The unprecedented action Friday by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.
The state agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.
Win for coffee industry
If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry, which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.
Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.
The state’s action rejects that ruling.
“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”
Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.
“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”
The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.
Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth over many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.
Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.
The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.
“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”
The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.