This article is not about the clinical side of this theory of mine - it's about the path that led me to believe in it.
For a long time now, I've been utterly convinced that most kinds of cancer (except those caused by really faulty genetics which cause childhood mortality) would eventually be discovered to be caused by either a bacterium, a fungus, or a virus.
This is a pretty bold statement, but it's one that I can trace back a long way. It's also proving fruitful - especially with the recent discovery that certain strains of HPV (human papilloma virus) can cause cervical cancer and oral cancers.
The Discovery of H. Pylori and its role in Ulcers
Back in 1982, a link was discovered between Heliobacter Pylori and ulcers - namely, that most ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection of the stomach lining. This theory took 10 years of research to confirm, and is now widely tested for - and treatable with a combination of proton pump inhibitors (to allow the stomach lining to heal) and antibiotics.
I first heard of this in 1994 when a friend of mine who had suffered from ulcers for some time finally went and got treated. (I can't remember if I came across a reference to the treatment in New Scientist and I told her, or if she already knew of it and told me). Either way, a light went off in my head. Some things - some things previously considered untreatable, or a part of the human condition, are caused by things that we just hadn't had the tools to look for, or that we just plain didn't put two and two together for.
Cholangio Carcinoma - and my mom
My mother died in September 1996 of Cholangio carcinoma - a particularly nasty kind of gallbladder cancer which wrapped itself around the hepatic portal artery, making it (at the time) inoperable. It was a drawn out affair; from original diagnosis as stomach pains, to a stay in hospital due to hemorrhaging, to her final death at home while being treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and on a nearly constant morphine drip for the pain.
At the time, I spent a long time searching for all of the information I could, trying to find a cure. It wasn't easy - the internet was in larval form back then, pretty much the domain of university students and academia.
I always wanted to know why this happened. I finally think I've figured it out - but unfortunately too late for her. Sorry mom.
Crohn's Disease and my dad
Around the time that my mom died of cancer, my Dad came down with Crohn's disease. He had a section of his bowel removed, and he's mostly fine today. I'm hazy on the timeline, but I'm pretty sure that he was suffering from it during my mom's illness, and put off seeing a doctor about it until after she died and he had some room to start thinking about himself again, instead of the woman he loved more than anything (I really should share the story of how they met some time).
Is this just another case of broken heart syndrome, where the surviving spouse - through extreme stress - ends up contracting some kind of illness? I don't think so. I believe the two are intimately connected.
Warts and P52
I was reading a paper in 2001 on Human Papilloma Virus and P52. HPV causes warts in some forms, cancer in others, and in some forms, it's just a dormant thing that causes a lesion - or nothing at all. By the time you're in your 50s, you will have some form of exposure to HPV.
Apparently HPV does its magic by interfering with the expression of gene P52, a factor in cell death (apoptosis). By doing so, it's able to cause the cells to grow rapidly without being killed by the immune system - or themselves.
This got me thinking. If a virus can cause warts, and cause skin cells to grow out of control within a limited area... what's to stop it from causing other problems elsewhere? Such as cancer.
It would only be much later - in 2005 - that HPV would be making the news because of vaccines designed specifically to target it. Unfortunately, although cervical cancer had already been identified as a potentially sexually-transmitted disease, the discovery of a link between it and HPV was made in the 1970s. Why unfortunate? Because it took 35 years for a potential cure to be discovered, and for the role of the virus in the disease to become common knowledge. For some reason, that information remained locked up in medical research for way too long.
When news of the vaccine came out, it was something that I took as a personal vindication - my theory could be true!
Alzheimer's and Herpes
The connection between Alzheimer's and Herpes made the news in 2006, but I didn't catch wind of it until December 2007, at which point I was doing research on the subject because I'd heard that one of my favorite authors (Terry Pratchett) had recently been diagnosed with an early-onset form of the disease. Research in January points to a new treatment for Alzheimer's in the form of an anti-inflammatory drug known as Etanercept or Enbrel. I believe I've identified a missing link between the virus and the treatment, which you can find in my post.
Why was I researching this in December 2007? The father of someone I know well is currently dying of Glioblastoma Multiforme - a particularly nasty kind of brain cancer. I'd already seen a connection here between the alphaherpesvirinae (HSV1, HSV2, Varicella Zoster Virus) and this particular disease. I now feel that this connection is pretty solid, based on the symptoms of his wife (Multiple Sclerosis), and the fact that he had a virulent outbreak of shingles during the first round of chemotherapy. Coincidental? I hope not. I believe that all three of these conditions can be explained as varying immunity and genetic predisposition in the face of a particularly nasty Varicella Zoster Virus infection.
Further research has lead to a number of other similar connections. I'm posting this information in the hope that it spreads and people start using it.
What Changes Can We Make Today?
I would like to see, at a bare minimum, doctors start to take the history of patients as well as their spouses and children, including anyone they have been living with for a long time who has any kind of disease or condition. I'll explain this further in a later post. Let's just put it like this for now - this is essential data that we're missing, especially if it's possible that multiple conditions are caused by the same basic cause. In the case of my parents, I believe that a variant of Cytomegalovirus was the cause for both my mother's cancer, and my father's crohn's disease. This is something that could have been picked up on if medical records included this information.
My Cancer/Late Stage Of Life Disease Theory
Here's how the theory l have put together over the years lies right now:
1. There is no such thing as a "human condition" disease
Okay, so basic aging aside (that is, architectural problems that only show up in old age because the system itself is clogged), I don't believe that any disease just happens by itself. Particularly cancer. Why?
2. With the sheer number of cells in the human body, late-stage diseases such as cancer should always occur in childhood
Your body contains billions upon billions of cells, all replicating, all exposed to free radicals. Except during breastfeeding, your food supply doesn't change much through adulthood. Antioxidants, vitamins, etc, which protect cells should always affect you the same way - you shouldn't need more protection as you get older. It's a limited supply, that needs to be replenished regularly.
If you're going to see problems with replication, or other random malfunctions, then they should be as likely when you're young as when you get older. If you're going to get them when you're older, you should get them at the end of puberty if there's any magic involved in still being a child.
3. Chronic conditions build up over time, except in the case of active infection
Unless you are actively infected by something, a chronic condition will be caused by a subclinical condition occurring for a very long time. At some point, there's a tipping point, and your body is no longer able to handle the subclinical condition, or the condition is exacerbated, and it becomes full blown and noticeable as something we can point to as a disease.
4. Cancer is caused by a variety of agents, such as bacteria, funguses or viruses, meddling with the body's own machinery
Wart viruses are the best example of this. Alzheimer's is rapidly becoming a solidly defined disease that is caused - in part - by HSV1 infection of the brain.
5. Subclinical viral infection - particularly by viruses which can go "latent" or "dormant" - causes late stage diseases
We only see the active part of the infection - not the subclinical, latent phase. A latent infection can still cause symptoms and problems - look at the literature on genital herpes, where viral particles are still shed even though the virus may not be in its "active" phase.
I think that this is a reasonably solid theory, and gives us something to work with. Unless you're unlucky enough to have a genetic malfunction, we should look at other causative agents as well in most diseases - not just at the body itself.
In the next article, I'll cover the connection between Glioblastoma Multiforme, and Multiple Sclerosis, as well as other diseases which appear to be caused by Varicella Zoster Virus.
Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.
The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).