Cancer

Biggest Cause of Cancer? Just Plain Old Bad Luck

And your luck gets worse the older you get.

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CancerCellsKrishnaCreations
KrishnaCreations/Dreamstime

A new article in Science is reporting that most cancers in people are the result random copying errors that occur when cells in the body divide. Applying some sophisticated mathematics to the question of how the mutations that lead to cancers are produced, Johns Hopkins University cancer researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, sought to figure out what causes 32 different types of cancers. The press release accompanying the report notes that when the two researchers looked "across all 32 cancer types studied, the researchers estimate that 66 percent of cancer mutations result from copying errors, 29 percent can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, and the remaining 5 percent are inherited."

Additionally, they calculated how big a role random errors played for various types of cancers. For example, when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent to environmental factors, such as smoking, and the remaining 5 percent to heredity. For prostate, brain or bone cancers, more than 95 percent of the mutations that lead to malignancy are due to random copying errors. However, environment does play a big role in lung cancer in which 65 percent of all the mutations are mostly due to smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors. Inherited factors are not known to play a role in lung cancers.

The risk of cancer goes up with age. People over age 65 account for 60 percent of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70 percent of all cancer deaths. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions and thus have had greater chances for the sort of random genetic errors that lead to cancer to occur.

Given that Americans face a lifetime risk of around 40 percent of suffering from cancer, what can be done? The researchers note: "Early detection and intervention can prevent many cancer deaths. Detecting cancers earlier, while they are still curable, can save lives regardless of what caused the mutation. We believe that more research to find better ways to detect cancers earlier is urgently needed."

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  1. A really striking statistic is that only one-third of all lifetime regular smokers ever get lung cancer and 20% of all people who get lung cancer never smoked.

    So even in the case of the most known cancer-causing activity, smoking, and its associated disease, lung cancer, it is still a question of luck whether you get lung cancer.

    1. Last time I looked only 5% of smokers ended up with lung cancer. Where did you get the 1/3?

      1. A 1/3 mortality rate for smoking is mentioned in a lot of the public service announcements. I’ve noticed a lot of people make the mistake of equating that figure with cancer. But the majority of those deaths are due to cardiovascular problems, with much of the rest being emphysema.

    2. Last time I looked only 5% of smokers ended up with lung cancer. Where did you get the 1/3?

  2. Duuhhh. Everytime a cell splits it has a chance of mutating. This happens 50,000,000 times a day. The biggest reason why cancer seems so prevalent today is because we’ve cured or figured out how to treat every major disease and virus that historically killed the majority of people.

  3. This is not so simple. Your body produces cancer cells all the time. However, your immune system promptly recognizes and attacks the cancer cells. It is only when the immune system fails to do so that the cancer takes hold. So, if your immune system is taxed or lacks resources, cancer has a much higher chance of getting going. And what taxes the immune system? Stress, lack of adequate sleep, and poor lifestyle choices.

    1. Always blaming the victim.

    2. “Stress, lack of adequate sleep, and poor lifestyle choices.”

      In other words, Trump, Russians causing Hillary to lose, and being a leftist douchebag.

    3. It is only when the immune system fails to do so that the cancer takes hold. So, if your immune system is taxed or lacks resources, cancer has a much higher chance of getting going. And what taxes the immune system? Stress, lack of adequate sleep, and poor lifestyle choices.

      This assumes that the body’s ability to produce cancer never evades or exceeds (or both) the capacity of a normal/optimally functioning immune system and that your immune system is an intrinsic or universal good.

      Turns out the whole homeostasis balancing act isn’t frozen in place for all eternity and, kinda intrinsically, cannot be.

  4. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions

    Quite Interesting’s bit on this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXZ1C2PoOu0

  5. The risk of cancer goes up with age.

    Well it’s a good thing then that we are getting rid of the only general practice doctors (geriatricians) who can actually explain that to older patients and in so doing lower their expectations of aggressive treatment of the specific and create different options (here’s the way we can keep you active/healthy even while you age)

  6. My aunt died at 92. My dad shook his head and said “Well, you know, she smoked all her life”. Must have been what did her in? I had two uncles die of lung cancer though, both in their late seventies and both had had extensive exposure to asbestos when they were in the Navy. So I’m sure some things are more carcinogenic than others.

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