Lyme disease is one of the most insidious diseases out there. This is compounded by the fact that we don’t take it as seriously as we should. The effects of chronic Lyme, the long-term form of the disease, can be devastating. Yet despite new cases cropping up in the hundreds of thousands every year, chronic Lyme has yet to be fully recognised as a legitimate disorder. This is damaging in two ways. Firstly, it means that patients who are suffering from the disease are left in the dark, with only a small number of Lyme-specialist doctors to choose from. Secondly, it de-emphasises the seriousness of Lyme, relegating it to its acute form only, which is mild, non-life-threatening and relatively easy to cure. Yet Lyme should be taken seriously – as seriously as that other devastating disease: cancer. Beyond them both being utterly destructive, is there a tangible connection between Lyme disease and cancer?
Lyme disease is often called ‘the Great Imitator’, as the symptoms caused by the disease mimic other chronic disorders. This makes it exceedingly hard to both diagnose and treat. Lyme disease is spread through ticks; when an infected tick (black-legged or deer species) bites a human, there’s a chance the Lyme-causative Borrelia strain of bacteria will be transmitted. The symptoms start out like a typical bout of flu and can disappear on their own after a couple of days or weeks. However, if the bacteria has not been combated with antibiotics in this window, then it can take root in the patient’s system and mutate to full-blown chronic Lyme. This might not appear until many months or years after the initial tick bite. The severity and spectrum of symptoms differs on a patient-to-patient basis.
While the causes of Lyme disease are crystal-clear, the causes of cancer are less so. The disease has plagued humans for years upon years; it is estimated that one in three people will have to deal with cancer in their lifetime. The omnipotent shadow it casts over human lives has given cancer its own nickname, ‘the Emperor of All Maladies’. The causes are estimated to be manifold, and every passing year scientists bombard us with more apparent bullets to dodge. There are a number of things we are advised not to do to increase are chances of staying cancer-free (don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, exercise regularly, etc.), but the amount of uncovered links to cancer that have cropped up in the last few decades is a good indicator of how clueless we actually are. Sometimes it’s phones, sometimes it’s butter, sometimes it’s coffee and sometimes it’s burnt toast. There seems to be no consensus.
Despite this, we know a lot about how cancer operates, and treatment is becoming more successful as time goes on. There are many forms of cancer that can be eradicated if they’re caught early enough; as with Lyme, early detection is absolutely paramount. Another abstract connection between Lyme disease and cancer is that their names stand in for a collection of disorders, not just one. As we know all too well, the word ‘cancer’ doesn’t mean anything by itself, at least not medically. The description of each individual form of cancer is critically important, as is the stage, location and aggressiveness. The same is true of Lyme. Lyme disease can refer to any concoction of Borrelia infections, along with the possibility of co-infection by a number of compounding bacteria, such as bartonelliosis and babesiosis. This deadly cocktail can all be transferred to a patient’s system by one single tick bite.
Cancer starts within the body, and Lyme disease invades from the outside. They could be described as mirror images of each other. The toll they take on the body and the potential for devastation is very similar, although as it stands, one is regarded as much more serious than the other. Beyond the similarities, though, it’s possible that being infected with Lyme disease can render a patient more susceptible to cancer. Cancer occurs when the immune system misfires and allows malicious cells to reproduce. Lyme disease suppresses the immune system, sometimes to extraordinary lengths, making it more likely to make mistakes. Lyme disease in and of itself cannot cause cancer – but it can provide the perfect storm of circumstances for cancer to flourish.
Lyme and its co-infections achieve this in three distinct ways. Firstly, they suppress the immune system, which is a crucial tool in detecting and destroying cell mutations in the body. Secondly, they promote inflammation, which can encourage tumour growth and lead to exacerbated tissue damage. Thirdly, they can manipulate DNA, which makes the cells more prone to mutations. Cancer is a constant threat that we face in our lives. Cells in our bodies are constantly misfiring; we just rely on our immune system to eradicate them as soon as they crop up. BCA-clinic knows all too well the many-headed dangers of Lyme disease. As Lyme specialists, they devote themselves to spreading awareness and improving treatments for existing and future patients all over the world. Lyme can devastate a body in many ways; opening a potential door to cancer is just one of them.