Inflammation and cancer: What is inflammation?

Inflammation is everywhere and it gets a very bad press, but what is it? What does inflammation mean to you? Do you think of an irritation in the body, or a troublesome infection, perhaps a painful, hot, red, itchy abscess in the skin or having a high fever, a cold…?

Given the key role inflammation plays in health and disease, understanding what inflammation is will help you see why addressing inflammation can be good for you and, the next step, how to do that (but that’s a separate blog!)

Key point 1: Inflammation is an essential process that protects us and helps keep us healthy. It is an immediate (medically referred to as “acute”) and complex response to external “attack” – such as infection, toxic chemicals, physical injury – or internal danger signals (such as damaged cells). Inflammation protects us by clearing invading organisms and damaged cells and repairing tissues. The main players are the white blood cells of the immune system. It is a beautiful example of self-healing, returning the body to homeostasis. (Homeostasis is the scientific term for balance within the body).

But if you search on the internet for information about cancer, or just about any illness, inflammation is always there as a bad guy, an important factor in both causing disease and many of the symptoms we experience. How can inflammation be good and bad?

Key point 2: Chronic inflammation is a persistent, prolonged, and abnormal inflammatory response, which leads to tissue damage. Medically, the word “chronic” implies an abnormally prolonged process. While the acute inflammatory response is a healing process, chronic inflammation is the opposite. This persistent inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases: allergy, atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, other autoimmune diseases… 

Chronic inflammation can be due to repeated acute attacks, such as repeated episodes of pneumonia (infection in the chest), leading to permanent damage to the lungs. Alternatively, chronic inflammation can result from a failure of the immune system to switch off the initial protective inflammatory response entirely, so the body never returns completely to homeostasis.

What we know about inflammation is based largely on the extreme situations of infection and tissue injury, as both lead to an obvious change in the body that we need to address. However, the association of chronic inflammation with many diseases cannot be explained by an obvious infection or tissue injury. Nevertheless, we do know that active inflammation can be found in the environment of tumours, as well as throughout the body, and this has a direct effect on promoting the survival and growth of cancer cells.

Evolution has given us a beautiful, complex, and highly coordinated defence system to deal with certain dangers – inflammation. However, every evolutionary step also comes with a cost. One cost may be unwanted inflammation – chronic inflammation – resulting not from infection or injury, but from changes in our environment and lifestyle that evolution has not yet adjusted for.

Key point 3: chronic inflammation is the bad guy, but we can do something about him! The explosion of chronic diseases, including cancer, in the modern world is strongly linked to our environment and lifestyle. We may not have all the answers, but we do know reducing chronic inflammation is important to our health and in getting better from illness. The good news is that adjusting our habits is in our control. As we say at the Wellness Script, it is the power of the ordinary – you have the power to make a real difference.


If you would like to know more and/or would like help to find what may work for you, please contact us at or on Instagram at the_wellness_script.


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