17 December, 2015

A study published today in the Journal, Nature, challenges the claim that most cancers are down to “bad luck”. It supports the view that external factors, such as environmental contaminants and lifestyle choices, trigger most cancers.

Using mathematical modelling, epidemiological data, results from tissue culture studies, and analysis of mutational signatures in cancer cells, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York estimated the contribution of extrinsic and intrinsic factors to cancer. They established that intrinsic factors (those that result in mutations due to random errors in DNA replication) – referred to as bad luck – contribute ‘only modestly’ (between 10 and 30%) to cancer development.

They concluded that cancer risk is “heavily influenced” by extrinsic factors. Environmental factors affect mutagenesis rates, such as radiation, environmental contaminants, and lifestyle choices). The research supports the argument that far more could be done to prevent cancer. And that cancer strategies must focus on early diagnosis and treatment and removing as many external triggers as possible.

Lynn Ladbrook, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer UK, said, “This study quashes the theory that getting cancer is just down to bad luck. It upholds the view that many cancers are preventable. Cancer strategies have marginalised prevention to lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption and physical exercise. This study confirms what Breast Cancer UK has recognised that environmental factors such as exposure to toxic chemicals are also key risk factors for certain cancers. It should form part of any cancer prevention strategy.

In our response to the Independent Cancer task force, we called for a cancer strategy that prioritises the primary prevention of cancer. Which is based on a comprehensive understanding of all cancer causes, goes beyond lifestyle and genetics and acknowledges the role of harmful chemicals. This study corroborates the need for such an approach. It is vital to prevent the shocking statistic that half of us will get cancer from becoming a reality.”

Breast Cancer UK works to raise awareness of breast cancer’s environmental and chemical causes. We aim to advise how people can reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals and decrease their risk of developing the disease.


View the full report in the journal Nature, here: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature16166.epdf

Further reading: https://www.nature.com/news/cancer-studies-clash-over-mechanisms-of-malignancy-1.19026

Submission to the Cancer strategy https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/wp/news-and-media/breast-cancer-uk-submission-to-cancer-task-force/

Response to the cancer is bad luck story https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/wp/news-and-media/cancer-rates-are-rocketing-but-is-it-all-just-bad-luck/

Breast Cancer UK is asking, is enough being done to prevent cancer? Read more here: https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/wp/you-do-the-maths

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