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CANCER RISK FACTORS: ATHEROSCLEROSIS AND CANCER

Atherosclerosis and its many complications are the most common cause of death in the United States. Atherosclerosis, commonly called "hardening of the arteries," is a disease that narrows the inside diameter of the artery. This narrowing restricts the blood flow beyond the narrowed portion, therefore less oxygen can be delivered to those tissues by the red blood cells. Death of tissues occurs when they receive little or no oxygen. The less oxygen, the more dead tissue. Pain is a symptom of either very low oxygen supply to tissues or outright death of tissues. This is why a person having a "heart attack" is in a lot of pain: some tissues are dying and others are not receiving enough oxygen. What does atherosclerosis have to do with cancer? Well, cancer may be responsible for the development of heart and vessel disease in a way, and conversely high blood pressure (a form of blood vessel disease) may lead to the development of cancer under certain circumstances.

The first step in the formation of a narrowed artery is the manufacture of cells (smooth muscle cells) which line the inside of the artery. Then cholesterol gets deposited in these cells after they have increased in number. The increased cells together with cholesterol is called a plaque. There is good evidence that these cells come from a single cell, that is, they are cloned from one common cell. Cloning is a form of cancer. This situation can be produced in chickens by feeding them carcinogens (benzo(a)pyrene and dimethylbenzanthracene), chemical substances that produce cancer. These particular carcinogens cause an increase in the number and rate of formation of plaques without altering the blood level of cholesterol. In humans, these types of carcinogens (hydrocarbons) are carried by certain proteins (low-density lipoproteins) which also carry cholesterol. More curiously, an enzyme called aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase, present in cells of the inner walls of arteries, can activate hydrocarbon carcinogens to start proliferating the lining cells. Therefore, if we eat food contaminated with these hydrocarbons or are otherwise exposed to them so that they get into our bloodstream, atherosclerosis may begin to develop. Of course this is just one of many factors involved in the development of atherosclerosis.

R.W. Pero and colleagues have shown a relationship between high blood pressure and cancer.32 The study shows that the higher the blood pressure and the older the person, the more alterations of DNA that occur in cells. The more abnormal the DNA content of a cell, the more often it will lose control and develop into a cancer. There is some evidence that people with high blood pressure have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and other cancers.

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Cancer

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