Published: Thu, March 30, 2017
Medical | By Ismael Lynch

Cancer partly caused by bad luck

Cancer partly caused by bad luck

But occasionally they occur in a cancer-driver gene.

New research indicates that particular DNA mutations which can not be avoided may be responsible for triggering cancer to occur later in life.

"Every time a perfectly normal cell divides it makes several mistakes - mutations", Vogelstein said. The body has ingenious DNA-repair mechanisms to limit the damage, and not all mutations occur in parts of the DNA that are active.

"That is the usual situation and that is "good luck" in our paraphrase".

The new work confirms and extends the findings of a 2015 study that challenged some of the cancer community's bedrock beliefs about malignancy.

The study authors took pains to quell those concerns.

However, the researchers said their findings shouldn't discourage people from striving to lead a healthy lifestyle in order to lower their risk of cancer.

Tomasetti says these random DNA copying errors will only get more important as societies face aging populations, prolonging the opportunity for our cells to make more and more DNA copying errors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions against the use of tobacco, which is known to be the single greatest risk factor for developing cancer. The result is "a complete paradigm shift in how we think about cancer and what causes cancer".

The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre in America, which carried out the research, found nearly two-thirds of cancer-causing mutations are because of DNA copying errors. For prostate, brain and bone cancers, 95 per cent are due to random copying errors.

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"These cancers will occur no matter how flawless the environment", says Vogelstein.

Their mathematical model shows that when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent due to environmental factors like smoking and 5 percent are because of heredity.

"That's just evolution", Vogelstein said. Lung cancer, the study says, is overwhelmingly caused by environmental factors. DNA can mutate and cause cells to replicate out of control, leading to cancer.

As we get older, in short, the likelihood increases that all the mutations needed to jump-start cancer will fall into place.

Lung cancer, they note, presents a different picture: 65 percent of all the mutations are due to environmental factors, mostly smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors.

Thursday's study follows statistician Cristian Tomasetti and 2015 research by Vogelstein that introduced the idea that a lot of cancer may be due to "bad luck" because those random DNA copying mistakes are more common in some kinds of cancer than others.

But whatever the ultimate number, the research offers a peek at how cancer may begin. There's no need for them to feel guilty. In short, simple bad luck may play a much bigger hand in the development of cancer than we'd like to believe.

The same person can harbor a mix of mutations sparked by random DNA mistakes, heredity or environmental factors. This means preventing certain types of cancer could depend on periodic profiling of cellular activity. And the random DNA errors caused almost all the mutations leading to childhood cancers, which is not surprising because youngsters have had little time to be exposed to environmental risks. But it will clearly reduce the risk that all the necessary mutations will align.

New research has found most cancers are caused by unpredictable defects that occur when cells divide. By flagging cancers that appear to be largely explained by random mutations, Vogelstein and Tomasetti have given cancer researchers mysteries to solve - and potential targets for new treatment approaches.

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