Vogelstein-Led Study Links Majority of Cancer Risk to Random Mutations Associated with Number of Stem Cell Divisions in Tissues; Suggests Two-Thirds of Cancer Explained by Simple “Bad Luck;” Just One Third by Envirornmental Factors and Heredity

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have created a statistical model that measures the proportion of cancer incidence, across many tissue types, caused mainly by random mutations that occur when stem cells divide. By their measure, two-thirds of adult cancer incidence across tissues can be explained primarily by “bad luck,” when these random mutations occur in genes that can drive cancer growth, while the remaining third are due to environmental factors and inherited genes. “All cancers are caused by a combination of bad luck, the environment, and heredity, and we’ve created a model that may help quantify how much of these three factors contribute to cancer development,” says Bert Vogelstein, M.D., the Clayton Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins, and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Vogelstein is an acknowledged giant in the field of cancer genetics and among his myriad accomplishments over many years of stellar work were, with colleagues, the determination that the TP53 gene coding for the p53 tumor suppressor protein, the so-called "Guardian of the Genome," is the most frequently mutated gene in cancers and the discovery of the genes responsible for hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). “Cancer-free longevity in people exposed to cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco, is often attributed to their ‘good genes,’ but the truth is that most of them simply had good luck,” adds Dr. Vogelstein, who cautions that poor lifestyles can add to the bad luck factor in the development of cancer. The implications of the new model range from altering public perception about cancer risk factors to the funding of cancer research, the authors say.
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