Cancer: Bad Luck Or Bad Lifestyle? New Discovery Sheds Light On Cancer Causes

Cancer: Bad Luck Or Bad Lifestyle? New Discovery Sheds Light On Cancer Causes

Why do people get cancer? Bad luck may play a part, but not as much as a new study has suggested. In fact, the study suggests that these unfortunate, uncontrollable circumstances may be the leading general cancer cause, as opposed to poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking and unhealthy diets and the harmful effects of pollution.

With cancer ranking as a leading cause of death in many parts of the world, thousands of people have made extraordinary efforts to implement lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking, avoiding or eliminating alcohol, and eating more fruit and vegetables are just some of the positive lifestyle changes people make, and these often prove to be effective. But new research from Johns Hopkins University tells us something potentially unsettling about cancer – bad luck may be the leading cause of the disease, and not environmental or hereditary factors as once believed.

According to BGR, the fact that scientists, and not doctors, were involved in the study made the new research rather unusual, as science tends to “keep its distance” when trying to analyze cancer causes in-depth. But the Johns Hopkins study nonetheless went ahead and looked into the matter, and made some shocking discoveries about the disease.

In the study, the researchers wanted to look into the how and the why of the genetic mutations that cause cancer, and the variables that could determine the chances of people suffering from the disease. It was discovered that a good two-thirds of the cancer-causing mutations were results of “completely random” DNA errors in our bodies. Smoking, pollution, and other environmental factors associated with cancer were found to have caused about 29 percent of cases in the study. Only 5 percent of cancers were believed to be hereditary.

Although the research suggests that there may be little we can do about cancer due to the bad luck mutations involved, that doesn’t mean people should stop making lifestyle changes pursuant to avoiding the disease. NPR noted that the above numbers may vary depending on the type of cancer, as the odds of getting lung cancer, for instance, are mostly influenced by the environment. Childhood cancers, on the other hand, are largely chalked up to those unfortunate, unlucky mutations.

As hereditary factors only took up a small share of the causes in the Johns Hopkins study, co-author Bert Vogelstein said that parents shouldn’t blame themselves for their children unexpectedly getting cancer.

“They need to understand that these cancers would have happened no matter what they did. We don’t need to add guilt to an already tragic situation.”

The NPR report stressed that it would still be best that people eschew cigarettes and other vices, eat a healthy diet, and keep their body weight proportionate to their height. Those lifestyle changes, after all, reduce the risks of preventable cancers. Unfortunately, the researchers added that there’s “nothing right now” that can be done about most mutations, as they come up naturally and unexpectedly.

Researchers Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti published their cancer study earlier this week in the journal Science, and in a commentary on the research, Harvard University biologist and mathematician Martin Nowak opined that while the findings may come as a shock, they have, at least, made for a good talking point in the medical and scientific communities.

“It’s very unclear to me about whether we have the tools to answer these questions. I think it will raise an even bigger controversy.”

It can truly be disconcerting when experts make such conclusions about cancer. Bad luck mutations or none, it is a complex disease, and Vogelstein and Tomasetti both believe that there are many other factors, aside from mutations, that may come into play when it comes to determining the seriousness, aggressiveness, and death risks associated with the disease.

[Featured Image by Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock]