Vogelstein-Led Study at Johns Hopkins Shows That Random DNA Copying Mistakes Account for Two-Thirds (66%) of Cancer, More Than Environmental Factors (29%) and Family History (5%) Combined; Findings Emphasize Urgent Need for Earlier Detection Methods

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists report data from a new study providing evidence that random, unpredictable DNA copying “mistakes” account for nearly two-thirds of the mutations that cause cancer. Their research is grounded on a novel mathematical model based on DNA sequencing and epidemiologic data from around the world. “It is well-known that we must avoid environmental factors such as smoking to decrease our risk of getting cancer. But it is not as well-known that each time a normal cell divides and copies its DNA to produce two new cells, it makes multiple mistakes,” says Cristian Tomasetti, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “These copying mistakes are a potent source of cancer mutations that historically have been scientifically undervalued, and this new work provides the first estimate of the fraction of mutations caused by these mistakes.” “We need to continue to encourage people to avoid environmental agents and lifestyles that increase their risk of developing cancer mutations. However, many people will still develop cancers due to these random DNA copying errors, and better methods to detect all cancers earlier, while they are still curable, are urgently needed,” says Bert Vogelstein (photo), M.D., Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Dr. Tomasetti and Dr. Vogelstein conducted the new study , which is described in an open-access report published in the March 24, 2017 issue of Science.
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