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Most Cancer Is The Result Of Bad Luck, Study Finds

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A Johns Hopkins Medicine research study has concluded that about two-thirds of cancer cases in adults are the result of random gene mutations — or bad luck, explaining why some people who live as carefully as possible get cancer while others smoke for decades and live well past life expectancy.

The study, which ran statistics on cancer cases, found that nearly two-thirds of cancer types in adults are the result of random mutations in genes that drive cancer growth, potentially changing how people view cancer risk factors, according to CNN. Researchers believe the findings may lead to changes in funding for future cancer studies with more focus on detecting cancers attributed to gene mutations at an early and curable stage.

[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Christian Tomasetti” author_title=”Biostatistician and study co-author”]

It was quite surprising to us. We think it’s pretty big. About 65% of cancer incidence across tissue types appears to be explained by the number of stem cell divisions.


Some forms of cancer are the exception to this, however, when environment and lifestyle play a large role. This includes skin cancer and lung cancer. Some forms of cancer are more influenced by genetic heritage than other forms.

Christian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, researchers with Johns Hopkins University, described a new factor, a tissue’s stem cells, that may explain the difference in cancer risk among different types of tissues, according to TIME.

Many tissues have stem cells that work to produce more cells of the same type, such as skin cells and blood and immune cells. This ability to replicate allows the body to heal and repair itself, but it is also the process behind cancer, as cancer is caused by cells that acquire a mutation when they divide. Stem cells are the only type that copy their DNA and divide it to make new cells.

Because only a small amount of a tissue’s cells are stem cells, the researchers mapped out whether the number of stem cells in a specific tissue has any relationship with its tendency to develop cancer. When they charted stem cell data for 31 tissue types, they found that the more stem cells the tissue had, the higher the incidence of cancer.

This correlation was strong, even among cancers that are common and rare. The more likely cells are to divide, the more likely they are to develop DNA mutations that cause cancer.

On a scale of 0 (no correlation at all) to 1 (exact correlation), the researchers calculated the correlation at 0.8, which is very high when it comes to cancer, according to the Los Angeles Times. No other inherited or environmental factors are known to be correlated in such a way across cancer types.

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