A new study released by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US has found that the majority of cancers are the result of bad luck rather than lifestyle habits or family history.
The study, which appeared in the January 2 edition of the journal Science, indicated that more than two thirds of cancers are the result of random mistakes in cell divisions rather than factors such as bad diet, lack of exercise or genetics.
By and large, the result of the study was that the more cells need to divide to stay healthy, the more likely cancer is to develop. Put simply, this means that the factors contributing to the development of cancer are often random and beyond our control.
This explains why some cancers are more likely to develop than others. For instance, colon cancer is more prevalent than cancer of the small intestine because cells divide twice as fast in the colon as those in the upper bowel.
Despite this luck, author of the study and professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Bert Vogelstein said that you can still add to your risk of developing cancer by smoking and making other poor lifestyle decisions.
“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 heredity factors,” he said.
He also added that those of us who smoke regularly and make poor lifestyle decisions do not have good genes, but rather “simply had good luck”.
Of the 31 types of cancers measured during the study only nine were linked to genetics and lifestyle, with 22 being deemed the result of sheer “bad luck,” with DNA and behavioral factors only having a small impact.
However, the study did not include breast cancer, which is the most common cancer among women, or prostate cancer, which is the second most prevalent among men after skin cancer.
The media has also come under scrutiny since the results of the study were published this week, with many outlets allegedly running headlines on the study that focussed on the luck element, rather than the comparative risk.
According to the Guardian’s Bob O’Hara these types of headlines are misleading to the public because “the study explains variation in cancer risk, but it does not explain absolute cancer risk.”