Discovering a loved one or yourself has cancer brings a time of questioning. We ask, will we survive? Why me? And most commonly, what did I do to deserve this? We often reflect on our vices – smoking, drinking, being lazy and avoiding exercise, overeating the wrong food and more and in some ways we look inwards for something to blame. But research from Johns Hopkins University has found that there is nothing to blame…except bad luck.
That is right, scientists have used the term, “bad luck” when it comes to who faces cancer and who is spared the agony.
The researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at stem cell divisions in 31 different cell types. They then compared those with the chances of getting cancer in those areas. The research findings suggest that the majority of cancers are caused by “random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells”.
The body’s cells regenerate in seemingly random ways. New cells, created through division, replace old ones. However, as that division happens, the so-called letters of its genetic code may suffer distortion. This may portend an increased chance of cancer.
So when we ask ourselves those big questions and look for somewhere or something to blame, we can’t, because a large part of it sadly comes down to random bad luck. However the research team members have warned that this doesn’t mean lifestyle factors are suddenly irrelevant. Researcher Cristian Romasetti told the BBC that, “If two-thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then changing our lifestyle and habits will be a huge help in preventing certain cancers, but this may not be as effective for a variety of others”.
The cancers which, the researchers say, are still hugely influenced by lifestyle factors include colon cancer (diet and genes play a huge role), lung cancer (smoking) and Basal cell carcinoma (excessive exposure to UV rays). Breast and prostate cancers weren’t included in the study as the researchers didn’t find a consistent rate of stem cell division.
So what does this mean going ahead? That scientific early detection is paramount to survival. While we can limit our chances of some cancers, there are some that we clearly have no control over and in this world that is a very scary thing. But it does offer some explanation to the people with cancers who lived incredibly clean lives and yet found themselves facing this cruel illness.
We hope that medical research can focus on early detection for cancer so we can give ourselves a better chance of surviving the cancer epidemic.
Have you or a loved one faced cancer unexpectedly after living a clean and healthy life?