Besides Lifestyle and Inherited Genes, Cancer Risk Also Tied to Bad Luck

Dollarphotoclub_53312627Poor lifestyle choices and inherited genes are known to raise a person’s risk of developing cancer. But new research concludes that the majority of our risk across cancer types is due to another factor: bad luck when our cells divide.

The analysis, published in the journal Science, says genetic mutations that randomly crop up as our stem cells divide are “the major contributors to cancer overall, often more important than either hereditary or external environmental factors.”

The researchers, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, analyzed published scientific papers to identify the number of stem cells, and the rate of stem-cell division, among 31 tissue types, though not for breast and prostate tissue, which they excluded from the analysis. Then they compared the total number of lifetime stem-cell divisions in each tissue against a person’s lifetime risk of developing cancer in that tissue in the U.S.

The correlation between these parameters suggests that two-thirds of the difference in cancer risk among various tissue types can be blamed on random, or “stochastic,” mutations in DNA occurring during stem-cell division, and only one-third on hereditary or environmental factors like smoking, the researchers conclude. “Thus, the stochastic effects of DNA replication appear to be the major contributor to cancer in humans,” they wrote.

Consumers shouldn’t take this to mean they can continue smoking, drinking and tanning without consequence, said one of the paper’s authors, Cristian Tomasetti.

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