Stages of Cancer

The Stages of Cancer

According to Dr. Colin Campbell, there are three stages of cancer: initiation, promotion, and progression. In his book, The China Study, he uses the analogy of planting a lawn. He says:

Initiation is when you put the seeds in the soil, promotion is when the grass starts to grow and progression is when the grass gets completely out of control, invading the driveway, the shrubbery and the sidewalk.1

Chemicals “implant” the grass seed in the soil. In other words, they initiate the cancer-prone cells. The chemicals that do this are called carcinogens and they may be in the air, in a product you use, or in your food and drink. Carcinogens genetically transform or mutate normal cells into cancer-prone cells. A mutation involves a permanent change of the genes of the cell with damage to its DNA.

At this point in our lawn analogy, the grass seeds have been put in the soil and are ready to germinate. Initiation is complete. The second growth stage is called promotion. Like seeds ready to sprout blades of grass and turn into a green lawn, our newly formed cancer-prone cells are ready to grow and multiply until they become a visibly detectable cancer. This stage occurs over a far longer period of time than initiation, often many years for humans. It is when the newly initiated cluster multiplies and grows into larger and larger masses and a clinically visible tumor is formed.

But just like seeds in the soil, the initial cancer cells will not grow and multiply unless the right conditions are met. The seeds in the soil, for example, need a healthy amount of water, sunlight and other nutrients before they make a full lawn. If any of these factors are missing after growth starts, the new seedlings will become dormant, while awaiting further supply of the missing factors. This is one of the most profound features of promotion. Promotion is reversible, depending on whether the early cancer growth is given the right conditions in which to grow. This is where certain dietary factors become so important. These dietary factors, called promoters, feed cancer. Other dietary factors, called anti-promoters, slow cancer growth. Cancer growth flourishes when there are more promoters than anti-promoters; when anti-promoters prevail cancer growth slows or stops. It is a push-pull process. The profound importance of this reversibility cannot be overemphasized.

The third phase, progression, begins when a bunch of advanced cancer cells progress in their growth until they have done their final damage. It is like the fully-grown lawn invading everything around it: the garden, driveway and sidewalk. Similarly, a developing cancer tumor may wander away from its initial site in the body and invade neighboring or distant tissues. When it actually breaks away from its initial home and wanders, it is metastasizing. This final stage of cancer results in death.2

Tiny clusters of cancer-like cells which appear after initiation is complete can be measured. These little microscopic cell clusters have been called foci. Foci are precursor clusters of cells that grow into tumors. Foci are predictive of tumor development even though most foci do not become full-blown tumor cells. It is possible to learn indirectly how tumors develop and what effect protein may have by watching foci develop and measuring how many there are and how big they become. Researchers could save time and millions of dollars working in the lab by studying the effects of protein on the promotion of foci instead of tumors. This was what Dr. Colin Campbell and his team did. They found that foci development was almost entirely dependent on how much protein was consumed, regardless of how much aflatoxin was consumed.

They designed and carried out experiments. In one of the experiments, they got animals (rats) and dosed all of them with the same amount of carcinogen. They proceeded to alternately feed the animals either 5% or 20% dietary protein during the twelve-week promotion stage. They divided the twelve-week promotion stage into four periods of three weeks each. Period 1 represented weeks one to three, period 2 represented weeks four to six, and so on. During periods 1 and 2 when animals were fed the 20% protein diet (20-20), foci continued to enlarge. At the beginning of period 3, they switched the animals to the low-protein diet (20-20-5). There was a sharp decrease in foci development. Subsequently, animals were switched back to the 20% protein diet during period 4 (20-20-5-20). Foci development was turned on once again. It was several experiments like this, taken together, that made them discover that foci growth could be reversed, up and down, by switching the amount of protein being consumed, and at all stages of foci development. This was a profound discovery. Within that discovery is a suggestion: if one has been exposed in the past to a carcinogen that initiated a bit of cancer which has remained dormant, that cancer can be “aroused” by bad nutrition later.


  1. T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas M. Campbell II, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, 2006, BenBella Books, Inc., Dallas, p. 48.
  2. Ibid., p. 50.

Nothing in this post should be viewed as a substitute for competent medical care. Also, you should not undertake any changes in diet or exercise patterns without first consulting your physician.

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