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New cancer study reveals that “bad luck” more of a factor than behavior

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A new study has shed some light on the causes of cancer mutations, with researchers finding that 66% of all genetic mutations leading to cancerous cells are caused by simple random errors during cell replication more so than environmental, lifestyle or hereditary factors. The team from John Hopkins University have only just recently published their results in the journal Science.

Dr Bert Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti, both of the authors of the study had previously suggested that bad luck could be a major factor in an earlier publication, and have been able to put some weight behind that theory thanks to their latest paper. The authors went into detail as to how the mutations happen within cell replication, a process that happens millions of times every day within our bodies. Per CNN:

“Every time a perfectly normal cell divides, as you all know, it makes several mistakes — mutations,” explained Vogelstein in a briefing. “Now most of the time, these mutations don’t do any harm. They occur in junk DNA, genes unrelated to cancer, unimportant places with respect to cancer. That’s the usual situation and that’s good luck. Occasionally, one of these random miscopies will occur in a cancer driving gene. That’s bad luck.”

Despite these latest findings, researchers still warn that our lifestyle choices can affect our ability to get cancer. Environmental factors still made up 29% of all mutations, whilst the remaining 5% came down to an inherited pre-disposition. Tomasetti and Vogelstein were quick to add that different types of cancer can be influenced by various factors, which can in turn affect our bodies’ rates of cell division.

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Although this study may have ruffled a lot of feathers in what Dr Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, called “the cancer prevention crowd”, he agreed with the team’s findings. Dr Brawley believed that whilst the study has upset people who believed in cancer prevention and minimizing their risk through healthy living, it also helped provide an explanation to cancer sufferers who “had done everything right”.

Far from discouraging people from engaging in healthy lifestyles, Dr Brawley also supported Tomasetti and Vogelstein’s assertion that managing environmental factors within our grasp still remains a good option, but that people should still be aware of cancer’s indiscriminate properties.

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