According to a study done by the Hopkins Kimmel cancer center – other than inherited traits and smoking – Most of the mutations leading to cancer tend to crop up naturally. The authors of the study caused a ruckus with their findings stating that the development of most cancer’s are quite unavoidable.
“We all agree that 40 percent of cancers are preventable,” he said at a news conference. “The question is, what about the other cancers that aren’t known to be preventable?”
Bert Vogelstein, an investigator at the Howard Hughes medical institute, shocked the world when he highlighted the likelihood of mistakes being made as cells divide and copy DNA, causing naturally occurring mutations.
“Most of the time, those mutations are in unimportant bits of DNA. That’s good luck …. But occasionally they occur in a cancer driver gene. That’s bad luck,” Vogelstein says.
After two or three driver genes get mutated in a cell, they can transform healthy cells into cancer cells. In their recent paper, researchers at both institutes set out to quantify the likelihood of inevitable random errors in cell division and how the utilization of inherited traits and smoking effect them.
After months of research, they came to the conclusion that 66 percent of the total mutations are random, 29 percent being based on the environment and the last 5 percent belonging to hereditary traits.
Obviously the numbers vary based on the types of cancers studied.
For example, lung cancer is mostly caused by external forces such as smoking or the amount of clean air available, whilst the vast majority of cancer (Specifically childhood cancer) is caused by bad luck mutations. With parents often thinking they are the cause of their children’s cancer, Vogelstein states that the cancer was to occur regardless of the actions of the parents as they are sourced by bad-luck mutations.
Certain traits can definitely be avoided to lower the risk of cancer-cells forming, but the likelihood of its formation is mostly based on the methods in which the cells mutate. Which raises the question, how can we stop this from happening?
“Nothing. Right now, nothing,” Vogelstein says.
Despite the lack of a plan of action, the relationship between bad-luck mutations and the bad things we do are “Super fascinating” according to Martin Nowak, a biologist at Harvard who commented on the studies done by Vogelstein.
“We’re not saying the only thing that determines the seriousness of the cancer, or its aggressiveness, or its likelihood to cause the patient’s death, are these mutations …. We’re simply saying that they are necessary to get the cancer” Vogelstein claimed.
Dr. Colditz – an epidemiologist at Washington university – is convinced that the hazards are caused by environmental, hereditary and unavoidable mutations in the cells. “How these interplay with each other, I think is potentially more complex,” he says.