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

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

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, and concluded that cancer risk is “heavily influenced” by extrinsic factors (environmental factors that 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 not just on early diagnosis and treatment but on 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 and upholds the view that a large number of cancers are preventable. To date, 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 all along – that environmental factors such as exposure to toxic chemicals are also a key risk factor for certain cancers and therefore 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 that is based upon a comprehensive understanding of all of the causes of cancer, goes beyond lifestyle and genetics and acknowledges the role of harmful chemicals. This study corroborates the needs for such an approach and it is vital if we are to prevent the shocking statistic that half of us will get cancer at some point in lives from becoming a reality.”

Breast Cancer UK work to raise awareness of the environmental and chemical causes of breast cancer and provide advice on how women can reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals which might increase their risk of developing the disease.

For further information press contacts: Lynn Ladbrook, Chief Executive – 07786 393181 Louise Bowers, Communications Manager – 07930 854 527

Notes to Editors

View 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

Breast Cancer UK’s submission to the Cancer strategy https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/news-and-media/breast-cancer-uk-submission-to-cancer-task-force/

Breast Cancer UK response to the cancer is bad luck story https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/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/you-do-the-maths


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