On Cancer by Louise Orrock
Cancer, or what is said to be the proliferation of malignant or invasive ‘cells’, seems likely to be a fictitious disease that was invented for political reasons. There is not an adequate account in the medical literature of what causes a cell to become harmful, nor a clear definition of malignancy, even if it were true that one could photograph inside the human body or view cells under a microscope, nor an adequate account of what it means for a cell or tumour to invade surrounding tissue or travel to distant organs, nor of how one cell would be able to alter another or otherwise cause harm.
It is not clear how a cell would alter so that its behaviour became destructive to other cells or the mechanism by which it would be able to cause harm. If the mechanism Is mutation, whether or not, or how, this occurs, it seems implausible that a cell would change, either as a result of loss of its normal control mechanisms or by design, such that it would proliferate and set out to destroy its host. A knock or other injury, for instance, might lead to a growth of tissue around the site of injury. But that the proliferation of cells would be caused or accompanied by an alteration in its genetic material, such that it no longer supported the body but set out to harm or kill it seems contrary to what we know about the behaviour of living things.
The medical literature is not consistent as to whether cancer is diagnosed as a result of cell pathology or invasion of local tissue. In terms of cell pathology, it is not clear how ‘cells’ can be viewed, since microscopes enlarge rather than see below to any underlying structure (where the various parts of the cell are said to lie, whether or not the cell is opaque). Even if the magnifications claimed were possible to achieve (ie, in terms of lenses), the images one would see at such magnifications, from observation of camera lenses, would be too blurred to identify something the size of a cell. From observation, the size of the image of what one sees most clearly under a microscope is the same as that of the object itself viewed at close range. The image of a cancer cell could not be seen, to use Descartes’ phrase, clearly and distinctly. From observation, first, of what one sees when squinting at a light or into sunshine, and, second, from the fact that if one looks into a window on a sunny day one sees more clearly what is reflected, what one is most likely to be seeing when viewing a ‘cell’ is an image, either directly or reflected, of the lens of the eye itself and perhaps its fluids. The magnification, to the extent magnification, rather than illumination, is needed, is likely to be mainly by the eye itself, which tends to magnify what is closer to it as well as to exaggerate the distance (or extension) between itself and objects closer to it, although the lenses can be adjusted to compensate for different focal ranges.
If one squints from a distance into the eyepiece, one sees the lenses of the eye but what is on the slide is not visible, as can be seen by there being no alteration in the image whether or not the slide is present. If one holds one’s eye against the eyepiece and obtains light from a light source shining onto the mirror, a large opaque object on the slide blocks the light, whereas a relatively translucent material, such as a small drop of blood, is not visible, presumably because it is unable to be seen against the more vivid image of the reflected lens of the eye, in the same way that small marks on a window may not be visible when one is looking out of the window from a distance away from it on a sunny day. The writer’s knowledge of the stated principles of ‘optics’ (Descartes also uses the term ‘dioptrics’) is limited and their own microscope damaged so that it cannot be lit by batteries so that what follows is tentative: however, given the size of the aperture at the bottom of the microscope lenses, compared to those on a camera, it seems likely that there would not be sufficient light to illuminate what is on the slide so that it can be seen clearly and that if the mirror is needed what will be seen is again an image of the reflected eye.
In any case, setting aside the fact that one is unlikely to be viewing biopsy cells under a microscope, if there appear to be regularities in terms of changes (ie, if some people’s cells, but not others, appear to change in similar ways), these need not in any case indicate life-threatening changes to cells or tissue rather than the wear and tear associated with ageing. Some terms used to denote pathology, such as ‘stroma’ and ‘cribriform’ and even ‘calcification’, are difficult to pin down in terms of why they are dangerous or by what mechanism. ‘Necrosis’, associated with malignancy, refers to exaggerated cell death (as opposed to ‘apoptosis’) and is an indicator of uncontrolled proliferation, apparently because in an area where you have more cells, or tissue, you would be more likely to have increased cell or tissue death. But increased cell death would either suggest a check on unnatural proliferation or would, in any case, also be associated with benign tumours or, if not, suggest that benign tumours are more likely to be invasive, in the sense of growing sufficiently to invade surrounding tissue, than malignant ones.
If cancer is not diagnosed according to particular features of the cell (nor by cell growth since this is also a feature of benign tumours) but by invasion of surrounding tissue, this would seem to imply producing changes in surrounding cells or tissue, since otherwise a benign tumour could also potentially obstruct surrounding tissue. It is not clear by what mechanism one cell would invade another or what this would look like in cell cytology/histology. If surrounding tissue also changes, other than because of force or obstruction, it is likely to be as a result of the same factor(s), including any viral agent, that caused the initial cell to change, rather than that the initial cell invaded the other, unless the process being described is reproduction, or replication, involving, as is said to be the case with viral cells, some sort of interaction between cancerous and non-cancerous cells.
The presence (or spread) of tumours is usually detected, or confirmed in the case of those that can be felt by the hand, by x-rays or CT scans. Again, no camera, whether or not it is said to emit ‘radiation’, can see beneath the surface of the human body, including in order to see a cell or ‘gland’ that has travelled from another part of the body. The principle by which an MRI scan works seems more plausible, ie, that it produces images that reflect the attractions of different substances within the body to a magnet, but in practice it would not be sufficiently precise, given that the body has depth as well as area, if it were not dangerous.
If invasion is by the tumour itself, rather than by a single cell, setting aside by what process the tumour itself formed (ie, whether through invasion of one cell by another, including in order to replicate, in which case it would be difficult to distinguish between the formation of the tumour itself and invasion of adjacent tissue, or ;through a spontaneous proliferation of malignant cells. Again, does it occupy the adjacent tissue or cause it to change? If the tumour only moves, or displaces, adjacent tissue, again, this would also be a feature of benign tumours.
The mechanism by which a cancer cell alters, harms or kills a host cell and ultimately its host seems to be asserted rather than explained, which would be consistent with the ambiguity as to whether cancer is diagnosed by malignancy or invasion of surrounding tissue. If the mechanism is force, an obstructive tumour is as likely to be benign as malignant. If the mechanism is individual cell mutation, it is not clear why cell division would take place within the body, unless the body grows to adulthood in a way approximating cell growth, although the splitting of cells into identical ‘daughter’ cells would not in itself appear to account for either growth or differentiation within the body. But neither is genetic mutation explained satisfactorily.
If environmental factors (or ageing) cause an alteration in RNA/DNA then it is not clear why these factors are not themselves the cause of ill health in that there appears to be no satisfactory account or description of the means by which alteration in information stored in the cells causes an alteration in bodily tissue. For instance, there is understanding of the link between inputting information into a calculator or adding computer software and the changes that appear on the screen. There is a plausible explanation of the changes to the body when a surgeon follows a particular set of instructions. In each case, there is an understanding of, first, the agency, in the sense of there being a person operating the calculator or computer or on the body, second, of the mechanical link, in the sense of what follows when one presses keys on the calculator or inserts software or makes an incision, and, third, of the force needed, either electrical or human. There is not a comparable explanation of the agency and mechanism of change within RNA/DNA. RNA/DNA is said to have an independent existence and be capable of agency in the sense that is present in the body and influences it either in the absence of environmental factors (ie, is an innate substance or mechanism) or because it alters the character of environmental consequences (since otherwise it would be unnecessary in the explanation of changes to the body). But if it does have agency, there is no adequate account of how a genetic code would have the physical capacity to produce changes in the body or through what mechanism (ie, what type of mechanical link), nor can there be if, first, it is not possible to view the body clearly at the scale necessary to view changes and, second, if there is no satisfactory philosophical explanation of the link between, or ontological compatibility of, genetic information and bodily tissue.
Metastasis is said to be the process whereby a cancer that starts in one part of the body to kill, by spreading to distant, vital organs. A cell from the primary tumour is said to break loose when it loses its ability to stick to the initial tumour and then travels along the blood stream or via the lymph system. In the distant organ, the cell would regain its ability to stick and then begin to proliferate. The new mass of cells would be referred to as a secondary tumour – eg, a thyroid tumour in the lung, composed of thyroid cells rather than lung cells. That different parts of the body begin to develop tumours spontaneously, or even that one part of the body would copy another, would seem more plausible than that there are secondary tumours consisting of cells that have travelled from the initial tumour.
How would they travel? An apparently infinitesimally small ‘cell’ would not be able to travel, would it, within the relatively thick blood or ‘lymph’, especially from a lower part of the body to a higher, and, even if it were able to travel in any spaces between blood or lymph cells, and upwards, how would it then enter distant organs, ie, penetrate, for example, the brain or lungs? And why never the heart? CT scans apparently show single cells that have travelled to another organ. Would, according to common sense, a scan really be able to show that even if it were possible to photograph what is inside the body? If, instead, a large number of cells broke away, what, setting aside their motive, would propel them to a distant organ? The hypothetical force exerted by any number of cells that remain invisible to the eye would still be insufficient.
What is usually said to kill in the case of cancer is a recurrence, because a recurring cancer is said to be more aggressive, which one assumes means it would either grow more quickly or show greater pathology and propensity to metastasise, although in either case it seems uncertain by what mechanism a cancer cell harms and ultimately kills. If the cells, or tissue, are malignant, and become more malignant as they ‘mutate’, in what sense is this true – other than that they consist of parts of cells that are said to indicate malignancy – if they do not themselves contain agents of harm or are not able to otherwise cause alteration to cells or tissue?
If recurrence and mutation mean they are able to proliferate more quickly, aside from the fact that this need not indicate malignancy, why and how? If one assumes agency of some sort, then why, after surviving an attempt to eradicate it, would it seek to destroy its host (and therefore itself) or otherwise draw attention to itself? And if recurring cancers are more dangerous than the initial cancer, and often fatally so, then why do oncologists treat the less aggressive, indolent, cancers instead of monitoring them, when surgery and anaesthesia, and, apparently, ‘radiation’, are themselves dangerous. It also seems unlikely that drugs would be able to target parts of the body as precisely as we are told they can, or that they would not all have some impact on both the stomach and the head.
The benign growths, or lumps of altered, if not dead, tissue, caused by such things as knocks, burns, and sun exposure, might cause obstruction if they become too large, but in most cases they do not seem to grow, so that more damage is likely to be done by attempting to remove them surgically than by leaving them. They may even have grown, after an injury, to protect a part of the body from further damage. It seems unlikely that tumours would grow and expand to a considerable size within the body, especially as we age and weaken, unless, again, their purpose is protective. Those growths we cannot see or feel, we have no certain means of knowing whether or not they have grown or whether they exist. Symptoms such as a persistent cough are likely to indicate weakness or irritation rather than disease. (In the same way, a cold is a sign that one is weak: you don’t catch a cold, which is the body’s way of warming up or expelling liquid). And it seems unlikely that tumours would grow and expand to a considerable size within the body, especially as we age and weaken, unless, again, their purpose is protective. The most likely cause may be tissue ‘death’.
What kills in the case of apparently fatal illnesses such as those associated with AIDS is a cumulative weakening that may be partially caused by medication (prescription or otherwise), especially when there are initial unpleasant side effects, but which may be as likely to be caused by other factors, physical and psychological, in the environment of someone diagnosed with a viral infection (or other disease). These include such things as alcohol, tobacco, and non-prescription medications and well as narcotics, which either weaken or else stimulate and then weaken, introduce toxins into the body, cause diarrhoea or constipation (which can cause headaches and occasionally fainting), encourage anorexia, depress or confuse and cause poor decision making, make one more susceptible to colds and respiratory illnesses (especially if one believes one ‘catches’ them from others), and as well to night sweats, rashes and spots, which are the body’s response to fatigue, cold, heat, dehydration or over hydration, and malnourishment, which, at the same time, the body may be less able to recognise and to respond to). Other factors include surgery, which weakens, at least temporarily, so increasing the risk from other depressants, because of anaesthesia or blood loss; poor diet (insufficient calories, food that is not fresh or rotten or includes ingredients derived from toxins); environmental factors, particularly inadequate heating, extreme heat, fluctuations in temperature, and gas emissions; excessive physical exercise or overwork, or too little exercise; insomnia, or too much sleep. In addition, and perhaps decisive, is the psychological stress and fatalism caused by the belief that one has a potentially fatal illness. As you do not need gravity to explain why things fall to earth, you do not need cancer and HIV/AIDS to explain why people who have received a diagnosis of either might eventually fall ill.
It would strike most people as inconceivable that diseases such as cancer could have been invented, and so we have not thought about whether or not they are plausible according to observation, common sense or logic. For example, the term, the Final Solution (associated with the Wannsee Conference, which historians now say may have taken place in 1942, the year of the ‘Beveridge’ Report ), might have implied the use of intravenous fluids (and alcohol).
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Copyright Louise Orrock 2015