Idle Theory Idle Thoughts about Cancer

WARNING: The ideas in this essay are unorthodox.

In a previous essay about recurrent fever, I supposed that fevers might be caused by growing populations of bacteria reducing bloodstream energy density, and so reducing cell idleness, and also increasing cell power consumption, causing heating. If the bacteria were less idle than body cells among which they were multiplying, bacterial cell idleness would fall to zero before body cell idleness reached zero, and there would be mass death of bacteria. After an interval, the bacterial population recover, and the fever would recur.

A similar line of thinking might be applied to cancer.

Cancer cells form tumours because they reproduce more rapidly than adjacent healthy tissue. Cancer cells might be regarded as being much like fast-reproducing bacteria. And the ability of cancer tumours to grow and metastasize may be regarded as the growth of the population of cells in the cancer colony, just like a colony of bacteria.

But the usual result in the case of cancer is that at the peak population, the cancer patient dies. But this death seems to be the consequence of systemic failure. Cancer cells reduce the ability of affected body organs to perform their assigned task within the bodily economy, bringing about an avalanche of failures of other organs, and death.

The difference between cancer cells and bacteria is that cancer cells are modified somatic cells. They are just like other cells in the body. And this means that they will tend to have much the same idleness as other cells. Also, cancer cells will probably not be reproducing as rapidly as bacteria, some of which can double their population in under an hour. Since cancer cells start out as ordinary cells, they probably reproduce at normal rates to start with. Even the most aggressive cancers are probably not reproducing much more than twice the rate of ordinary healthy cells.

However, if cancer cells characteristically reproduce more rapidly than other cells, then they must be performing more work than normal cells, and so cancer cells should be slightly busier than normal cells. In fact, cancer tumours ought to be slightly warmer than adjacent normal tissues.

Also, if it is supposed that cancer cells are non-optimal in other ways, and are inefficent in other respects, cancer cells will be even busier. Ever more inefficient dividing cancer cells may end up arriving at zero idleness, and cell death. One reason why some cancers spontaneously disappear may be because cancer cell idleness falls to zero, if inefficiencies multiply faster than the population of cancer cells. Cancers in which cell mutation rates are high, but reproduction rates relatively low, will rapidly generate highly inefficient daughter cells, whose idleness falls to zero. On the other hand, cancer cells which mutate slowly, and remain almost as efficient as normal cells, will retain viable levels of idleness. If such cancer colonies have high reproduction rates, they will form tumours.

Since cancer cells reproduce more rapidly than normal cells, and are quite likely to be inefficient in other ways, it seems plausible to suppose that cancer cell idleness is less than those of normal cells.

And since both normal and cancer cells inhabit the same internal body milieu, this suggests one possible way of combatting cancer, which is simply to reduce the energy density of the internal milieu. As the energy density falls, all cells will have to work harder to survive, and so the idleness of all cells will fall. But since cancer cells are less idle than normal cells, cancer cell idleness will fall to zero before the idleness of normal cells. At that point, cancer cells would start to die off, but normal cells would continue to live. After some period of time sufficient to kill off all cancer cells, energy density could be restored to its normal levels.

This kind of reduction of energy density of the internal bodily milieu might be something that used to be achieved through the custom of fasting for long periods of time - e.g. lent -. This sort of fasting may have resulted in falling levels of blood sugars, and hence falling blood energy density. The habit of fasting may have regularly acted to kill off incipient cancer colonies as they arose.

The converse of this might explain the modern epidemic of cancer. Once people became more well-fed, and ceased to fast, they began to maintain high energy density in their internal milieu. And so wherever cancer colonies became established, they continued to grow.

Involuntary fasting may have historically been the ordinary experience of humans who feasted in summer when natural foods were abundant, and fasted in winter when natural foods were scarce. Once civilised, settled humans began to store corn, and began to enjoy a stable year-round diet, they ceased to undergo a regular cycle of feasting and fasting, and also perhaps began to suffer from strange new diseases. The cultural or religious practice of fasting my have been an attempt to artificially recreate the previous natural cycle of feast and fast.

In the absence of a regime of fasting, a similar effect might be artificially produced by interventions which directly reduce bloodstream energy density. The introduction of a saline solution into the bloodstream might act to reduce energy density. Or it might be possible to filter out sugars from the bloodstream, and maintain blood sugars at some predetermined low level. This would be a level at which normal cells could survive, but busier cancer cells could not. Any lower level, healthy body cells would begin to die. The patient would be maintained in this condition for a period sufficient to ensure that all cancer cells would have died, which might be a period of weeks. During this period, the patient would most likely be entirely inactive, because low blood sugar levels would preclude activity. If low blood sugar levels significantly reduced the idleness of normal cells, increasing their power consumption, the patient would experience a fever during the treatment.

A variation on this may be to find out what a cancer tumour is taking out of the bloodstream that services it, by analysing the blood upstream and downstream of it. An intervention might then act to selectively remove substances that the tumour is consuming.

Since cancer cells are probably only reproducing a little faster than normal cells, the difference in idleness between cancer and normal cells may be very small. It may be difficult to select a blood energy density at which cancer cell idleness is zero, and normal cell idleness is greater than zero. It may only be when cancer cells are reproducing rapidly that it becomes possible to knock out cancer cells without knocking out normal cells. And by the time cancer cells are reproducing rapidly, a cancer patient may be near to systemic death.

There are a number of assumptions in the above, which may turn out to be untrue. It's assumed that cancer cells are, for a variety of reasons, less idle than normal healthy cells. It's assumed that cancer cells do not respond to falling environmental energy density by slowing their reproduction rates. It's assumed that fasting acts to reduce blood sugar levels. And so on. It's perfectly possible that cancer cells, being modified ordinary cells, have the same idleness as normal cells. They may even be more idle. If so, reducing blood sugar levels will kill off normal cells before cancer cells, and will kill the patient before it kills the cancer.

Blood sugar levels

"Blood glucose levels tend to rise as we grow older". This may partly explain why cancer is common later in life. High blood sugar levels provide a higher energy density in the internal body environment, and serve to increase cell idleness. But this also increases the idleness of cancer cells as well. It may be that cancer only gains a foothold when energy density is high enough, and inefficient and relatively busy cancer cells become able to survive and replicate.

Blood sugar: "Hard physical work and fasting is an unbeatable combination to lower blood glucose abruptly." It appears that blood sugar levels do fall during starvation, but do not continue to fall. The body responds by mobilising fat stores.  

Tumour temperatures

Tumour temperature 1: "Tumors have a higher temperature than surrounding tissue by virtue of increased blood circulation in the tumor, particularly in the peripheral region of the tumor."

Tumour temperature 2:"There is frequently a material difference in the metabolic liberation of heat energy between normal and cancer cells. This cannot be accounted for on the basis of an increased circulation. The increased heat in the tumour and surrounding host area as compared to normal tissue can be detected by the aid of modern heat-recording apparatus."

This is interesting. Cancer tumours actually are warmer than surrounding tissues, but there appears to be dispute about why.

Normal Cell temperatures

I've found no evidence that low blood sugar levels actually increase cell energy consumption and heat loss. This may need reviewing.

In Idle Theory, somatic cells are seen as not essentially different from grazing animals. And a grazing animal living in a lush, green, energy-rich environment will be able to meet its energy needs with only a few mouthfuls of sweet grass. The same animal in a a parched, arid, energy-poor environment will have to wander around nibbling at single stems of grass here and there. It will have to work harder. And it will consequently be less idle. The same applies to a predator like a tiger - when prey are plentiful, hunting is easy, but when they're scarce it is difficult.

But it could be argued that somatic cells aren't quite like these animals because they are more or less having their energy piped direct to them by blood vessels. Somatic cells don't have to go hunting. They don't move around. They just suck in glucose and amino acids from the blood stream flowing past the front door. And that means that Pe, the cell's power expenditure while working to get an energy income Pi, will be very low. It won't be zero, though. But if it's very low relative to all the cell's other activities, falling idleness won't increase cell power consumption by much.

If so, why do cancer cells heat up? A cancer cell is just a modified somatic cell. Well, we know that cancer cells reproduce rapidly. So that means that they're performing more work as they grow and divide. And so they are expending more energy, and heating up. But it's also possible that even slow-reproducing cancer cells have to work harder. A normal cell opens a door, and grabs a pailful of the nutrient flowing past outside, and hauls it in. But in a cancer cell, the door may be jammed half-closed, and the pail may leak, and so cancer cells may have to work harder just to survive, never mind grow and divide.

Another thing to bear in mind is that cell idleness is something that will tend to remain very high as the blood energy density falls, and then fall off more and more rapidly at some particular low level. So quite large changes in blood sugar levels may only have very small effects on cell idleness, with cells only having to work very hard when they're near death.  

Idle Theory

Author: Chris Davis
First created: October 2009