Most cases of cancer may be associated with unhealthy lifestyles rather than our genes, experts have claimed. According to researchers, factors in the world around us— from diet to sunlight, cigarettes and disease— play a far bigger role in fuelling cancer than DNA. In fact, about 90 per cent of cases would be wiped up if these triggers could all be avoided, they said.
While this may not seem surprising, scientists have long been divided over the issue. The controversy was stoked last year when researchers claimed that most cancer cases are caused by errors in DNA that are generated at random as the body ages and its cells divide. The study concluded that this meant most cases of the disease are down to ‘bad luck’, rather than living an unhealthy lifestyle. The latest study used some of the same data as the first piece of research—however it came to the opposite conclusion.
Writing in the journal, Nature, Dr. Yusuf Hannun, of Stony Brook University in the US, said that while luck plays a role, factors in the world around us are far more important. These include our diet, alcohol intake, whether we smoke, getting sunburn, some viruses, pollution and possibly other factors that have yet to be identified. In the study, he claimed that the genes we inherit from our parents actually only account for a very small number of cancer cases. He concluded: “These results are important for strategising cancer prevention, research and public health.’
Experts have praised the research, saying Dr. Hannun had built a ‘compelling case’ for his argument and that these results demonstrate that a large proportion of cancer is caused by environmental factors and are preventable if their underlying causes are identified. ‘If we could wave a magic wand and get rid of all possible external risk factors there would still be cancers. But there would be fewer of them.”