Without a cure in sight, cancer has become one of society’s biggest concerns. The fear of getting it is enough for many people to change their lifestyles in dramatic and meaningful ways, and even though it’s increasingly possible to beat the disease, it remains one of the biggest universal health worries. As it turns out, all that anxiety may be for naught, as new research suggests that getting cancer is more about bad luck than lifestyle factors, though it’s still possible to lessen your overall chances.
Science has historically kept its distance when it comes to estimating the number of cancers that are caused by any particular factor, and what cases of the disease would have happened regardless of outside influence. Johns Hopkins University scientists published a new study in the journal Science that does exactly what researchers have avoided doing for ages, and the figures may come as a bit of a surprise.
The team sought to pinpoint the cause of the genetic mutations that cause cancer, and determine what influenced the outcome. Shockingly, the data suggests that a full 66% of the mutations that eventually result in cancer are completely random errors in the DNA, with no direct cause. Environmental factors — like smoking, pollution, and all the other things we think of as being triggers for the disease — account for about 29% of cancers. The last 5% are thought to be inherited.
The scientists explain that DNA mutations normally don’t occur in genes with cancer-causing ability, and therefor don’t have any negative consequences. When mutations randomly occur in certain genes, however, cancer may result, and most of the time it’s simply “bad luck.”