Q: Does aging prevent cancer?
A: No, yes, no, no, and huh?
I’ve tossed together a quick posting about the question “Does Aging prevent cancer?”
We’ll take this question on Five levels:
1) The Molecular Level – No!
Replicative senescence causes telomeric DNA to shorten each cell division.
Unprotected telomeres allow for DNA damage which is the sina qua non of cancer.
So at the level of the DNA, it’s quite the opposite: aging of the DNA causes cancer.
2) Nuclear Level -Yes
Yes. A wonderful experiment created a custom p53 enzyme (the policeman of the genome) that could no longer kill (apoptosis) but COULD shut down (senescence) critically damaged telomeres. They proved that in real-life mice, p53 prevention of skin cancer required the forced-aging of old dysfunctional cells possessed of critically-short telomeres. Surprisingly, the p53 prevention of skin cancer in these mice was not mediated by killing those cells.
3) Organism level – No
Obviously, older people get more cancer, premature aging syndrome kids (progerics) get more cancer, and aging immune systems (i.e. AIDS) area associated with more cancer.
4) Evolution of the Species level – No.
From aging conferences and reading editorials, I’ve heard some intelligent scientists suggest that aging is Nature’s way of preventing cancer. Dubious at best.
Hominid evolution never included aging because the fossil record doesn’t even show any of our ancestors made it much past 30. Since cancer never occurred (because aging was uncommon,) it couldn’t have be a factor in natural selection. Those scientists need to brush up on their Darwin and Dawkins, and put down the Genesis and Grimm brothers.
5) Cosmic – huh?
Grimm Brothers are a good model for much of what passes for theories on Aging. Deeply ingrained in our core values is the ironic comeuppance, which serves as a karmic gyroscope in what is essentially a magical and personal view of living. “Be careful what you wish for” they say, the Monkey’s Paw, Vampirism, the Twilight Zone episode where Burgess Meredith has all the time in the world to read books but breaks his glasses.
But let’s face it, in the real world, the bad guys often come out on top and usually, Grace gives us more than we truly deserve.
In my opinion, the universe doesn’t concern itself with ‘aging’ or ‘cancer’. These terms are abstractions that emerge from human biology and consciousness. Scientists who suggest that aging prevents cancer should concern themselves more with the mechanics of the watch, than whether the watchmaker was blind, deaf, or in a foul mood when he wove the tapestry of our lives.
As Alexander Pope pointed out: “The proper study of mankind is Man” and the experts there are the storytellers, musicians, and artists.
The experts on God and the Metaphysical “meaning of it all” are clergy and philosophers.
In my opinion, scientists should stick to science and avoid hand-waving and trying to interpret the cosmic ‘meaning of it all’