The link between long-lasting and irritating diseases (chronic inflammation) and cancer was noticed as early as 1863 by Rudolf Virchow. In Latin, the word inflammation (‘inflammatio’) means ‘set alight’ or ignites, which happens exactly in chronic inflammation or in long-lasting diseases that can ignite cancer. Although the exact percentage that these long-lasting diseases ignite cancer is not known, it could vary according to different organs and irritants. Unfortunately, chronic inflammatory conditions or chronic irritation at various sites in the body are ignored by many, especially in an era where cancer prevention is considered imperative in cancer control.

Despite the popular belief, only less than 5% of cancers are solely genetic or spread through family genes, and directly inherits from family members. Hence most cancer are multifactorial and can be catalyzed by pathogenic inflammation. Research conducted by Cancer Research Institute in the US concluded that ‘chronic inflammation plays a multifaceted role in carcinogenesis’.  

Recent advances in the study of the microenvironment surrounding chronic inflammation or long term irritation have identified the release of inflammatory cells and a variety of chemical mediators that cause cancer due to mutation of normal cells. Most importantly, inflammation promotes the spread of mutating cells by enhancing the ability of cancer cells to recruit new blood vessels into the tumour and spread along with it to distant organs such as the liver, lungs, brain and bones. Therefore any long term disease or irritation should be considered as a precursor of malignancy and should be treated or controlled properly.


A wide array of long-lasting diseases can ignite cancer. The most studied and well-established of these links are colonic carcinoma associated with inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease).

Patients with either chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease have a five to seven-fold increased risk of developing colorectal carcinoma. It is generally thought that colitis must persist for at least 8 years to significantly increase the risk of cancer. Hence anyone who has been diagnosed, treated and even cured of long-lasting colitis should continue with proper surveillance throughout life, though neoplasia generally appears after a median duration of approximately 15 years.

Increased cancer incidence is associated with a long duration of inflammation and irritation, which emphasizes the fact that any form of irritation should be avoided and completely stopped with the diagnosis. 

Chronic bronchitis is a long-lasting irritating disease of the airways (bronchus) that results in a change of the lining epithelium (the process is called ‘metaplasia’). The epithelium loses the specialized cell lining including fine cilia which facilitate the natural expulsion of secretions, foreign tissues and microorganisms out of the airways. Smoking is the main cause to get chronic bronchitis and this long-lasting disease could end up in getting lung cancer. It is important to note that if the long-lasting irritant of nicotine and other chemical nitrosamine compounds are smoked without stopping even at the time of the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis, it could promote simply to a cancer, faster than a non-smoker.

Another example of a well known chronic disease that can ignite a cancer is oesophageal carcinoma associated with long term acid reflux into the oesophagus. The incidence of oesophageal carcinomas has increased in Sri Lanka during the last few decades and many of them give a history of gastritis, acid reflux and heartburns.

A well-known fact is the development of skin cancers on burns injuries of the skin. In this instance, the chronic irritation could be unavoidable due to the dryness of the skin following burns. It is caused by the lack of normal moisture, dryness and itchiness that follows on the healed burns contractures. Therefore, utmost importance should pay to keep the burns area irritant free and applying skin moisturizers.





Gingivitis / lichen planus

Oral cancer



Salivary gland tumours


Reflux oesophagitis

Oesophageal cancer

Gastric acids


Stomach (Gastric) cancer

H. pylori organisms

Chronic bronchitis

Lung cancer



Liver cancer

Hepatitis B & C viruses



Liver flukes / bile acids

Chronic cholecystitis

Gall bladder cancer

Various bacteria / Gall stones

Inflammatory bowel diseases

Colorectal cancer


Bladder inflammation

Bladder cancer

Long term urinary catheters

Pelvic inflammatory diseases

Ovarian cancer

Chlamydia infections

Chronic cervicitis

Cervical cancer

Papilloma virus


Skin cancer at sinuses


Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gums.

Sialadenitis – Inflammation of the salivary glands.

Cholangitis – Inflammation of the bile ducts

Cholecystitis – Inflammation of the gall bladder.

Cervicitis – Inflammation of the neck of the womb

Osteomyelitis – Inflammation of the bone

The types of irritation which make the long-lasting disease ignite to cancer varies. In some cases, the cause of the irritation is known, hence can be avoided. These include chronic bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, chemical irritants, physical irritants and nondigestible particles. In certain instances, the underlying cause of long-lasting irritation is unknown.

Cigarette smoke is a complex proneoplastic agent that may act, in part, by inducing a chronic inflammatory condition. Smoking not only causes chronic bronchitis, but also delivers an array of chemical carcinogens (eg, nitrosamines, peroxides) irritating the lung epithelium, and following absorption of the chemicals causing oesophageal, breast, gastric, colon and bladder cancers too.

It is paramount important to obtain medical or surgical advice for those who suffer from any kind of chronic inflammatory condition or who suffer from various symptoms due to chronic irritation of epithelial surfaces, as most of these causative factors could be reduced, removed or avoided.  The importance of surgical elimination of carcinogenic inflammatory conditions has been highlighted as an essential component of cancer prevention at many Oncological forums Worldwide.


Mostly surgery is the mainstay not only to remove the diseased organ but also to remove further irritation and to prevent a cancer been formed. For examples, with cholecystitis the gall bladder is removed, in chronic colitis part of the large bowel is removed, in chronic cervicitis and womb is removed. In osteomyelitis, the diseased part of the bone is removed rather than the whole bone.

In certain conditions as hepatitis, reflux oesophagitis, cholangitis it is not possible to remove these organs surgically, hence managed by non-surgical techniques.


Regular exercise and move away from sedentary life is very important. It has proved beyond doubt that regular exercises can control many long-lasting diseases which  progress towards cancer.


Plant foods are the only foods that contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Plus, they are high in antioxidants and fiber that your body needs to stay cancer-free. Fiber also can lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein in the blood that signals inflammation.

As general guidelines,

  • Make one-half of your plate non-starchy fresh vegetables and/or fresh fruits. 
  • Make one-quarter of your plate whole grains or starchy vegetables, like potatoes. 
  • Eating too much red meat like pork, beef, and lamb or mutton can increase your cancer risks. Try to limit red meat to 18 oz. or less each week to keep your cancer risks low.
  • Choose animal proteins, such as skinless chicken, turkey and fish. 
  • Choose meat, milk, cheese and eggs. 
  • Replace animal proteins with plant proteins, such as beans and soya.
  • Skip highly processed foods, like fast food, packaged and instant foods, processed meats like bacon, sausage.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect your body from chronic inflammation. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, tuna, flaxseeds and avocado.
  • Use oils high in omega-3, such as olive and canola.
  • Eat more fermented foods such as yoghurt, food containing probiotics that help reduce inflammation and include a serving each day.
  • Avoid high energy sports drinks.

Treating chronic inflammation is only one part of a complete treatment plan – as there are many other aspects to consider, including nutrition, enhancing the immune system, change of lifestyle and avoiding mental stress. A majority of cancers do not inherit from families, it is the individual who promotes initiation of genetic mutation of your cell to become a malignancy and inconsiderately permits to grow within yourself. Hence governing the macro and microenvironment is the basis in avoiding a cancer been grown in you. Do not ignite your cells to become cancer.

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