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The bad luck of cancer

30 April 2015

During January and February an element of confusion crept into media reports; do we really have any say over whether we get cancer or is it just bad luck?

A paper in the journal Science, entitled ‘Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions’ ran more frequently under the heading ‘Bad Luck Cancer.’  It created the impression that two-thirds of the incidence of various types of cancer could be blamed on random mutations and not ‘unhealthy’ living or heredity.  Commentary in response to its publication ranged from the irresponsible; there’s no point in looking after your health, to detailed questioning of the methodology and treatment of different cancers.

Professor Mike Berridge was one of the many international researchers in the latter group who clarified the research approach. 

“They investigated only 31 of the 200 or more cancers that afflict humans; they divided some, like lung cancer into subgroups of smokers and non-smokers, whereas for melanoma they did not when there is a natural separation between the subgroups aligned to UV exposure.   Additionally, for melanoma, the stem cell link itself is contentious, and not all cancers originate from the same stem cells. To complicate matters more they excluded the two highly prevalent cancers; cancer of the breast and prostate.”

In short Mike Berridge says correlations are not proof of causation, but the paper may provide useful information for further study.  Meantime, early detection and keeping up your positive life choices remain vitally important in the fight against most diseases including cancer.