A controversial new study suggests that only about one-third of cancers are caused by what the medical community and world at large have hitherto suspected as the cause of the disease: a combination of genetic as well as environmental factors. And the remaining two-thirds? Those are caused by random mutations of DNA in noncancerous stem cells, or–in the words of the study’s researchers–“bad luck.”
The study, published earlier this month in Science by researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine and entitled Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions immediately caused controversy, with the WHO’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) releasing a press release stating they “…strongly disagree[ed] with the conclusion.” Regardless of whether or not you agree with the study’s claims, no one can argue that its publication has opened up a new dialogue about the root causes of cancer.
The researchers themselves, in an addendum, compared getting cancer to being in a car accident. “Our results would be equivalent to showing a high correlation between length of trip and getting into an accident,” authors Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein said. “Regardless of the destination, the longer the trip is, the higher the risk of an accident.”
They also stressed that the cause of cancer is attributed to many combinations of different factors; among them, the occurrence of random mutations in DNA stem cells that remain completely outside of human control. They went on to say that their research should in no way stall or halt the research of cancer cures, and, on the other hand, it actually provided a sense of relief for some cancer patients who had previously felt stigmatized by their cancer–believing their lifestyle or attitude had something to do with why they had the disease.
Dr. Vogelstein concluded, “This study shows that you can add to your risk of getting cancers by smoking or other poor lifestyle factors. However, many forms of cancer are due largely to the bad luck of acquiring a mutation in a cancer driver gene regardless of lifestyle and hereditary factors. The best way to eradicate these cancers will be through early detection, when they are still curable by surgery.”