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Why Everything You’ve Heard About Cancer Is Wrong (And Right)

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A study looking at 31 types of cancer has found that the majority of those cancers – about two-thirds – are due to little more than bad luck.

But if you’re a healthy eater, don’t give up just yet.

The study, conducted by Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, was published in January in Science magazine.

In the study, Tomasetti and Vogelstein examined 31 types of cancer, and concluded that among 22 of those types of cancer the DNA mutations which cause cancer seemed to appear randomly. The remaining nine types of cancer were attributable to lifestyle choices environmental factors and inherited predispositions.

What Causes Cancer?

It is widely accepted that genetic errors are responsible for cancer formation. Normal cells are programed to die after a certain period of time while cancer cells do not have this “knowledge” built into them. Cancer cells keep on growing and take over localized areas of the body. Eventually cancer cells can metastasize and travel to distant sites throughout the body.

What Does Research Say About Causes of Cancer?

What is significant about the study that Tomasetti and Vogelstein conducted is the degree of randomness which caused DNA to mutate. Many cancers are caused by a combination of genetic factors and lifestyle. However this study emphasizes that lifestyle may not impact the formation of several cancers as much as chance.

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It is important to note that the authors stress that prevention and healthy lifestyle habits are important for the prevention of one-third of the cancers that they studied. They are:

  • Medullary thyroid
  • Colorectal adenocarcinoma
  • FAP colorectal (colon)
  • FAP duodenal (colon)
  • Lynch colorectal (colon)
  • HCV hepatocellular (liver)
  • Human papillomavirus-16 head & neck
  • Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer (Basal cell carcinoma)

Other studies also indicate that environmental and lifestyle factors are responsible for the formation of many of the most common and fatal cancers that are prevalent today.

hospital visitThe American Cancer Society notes in its “Cancer Facts & Figures 2015” data that approximately one-third of all cancers are caused by people being inactive, overweight and eating poorly. They go on to state that smokers are 25 times more likely to contract lung cancer than non-smokers. Many cancers are related to infections, according to the society. Prevention of infections and early diagnosis and treatment are critical with these cancers. Examples of cancers which have viral components include liver, cervical and stomach cancers.

Many of the deadly and common cancers today are believed to have strong lifestyle links. Breast cancer is linked to alcohol consumption and obesity. As noted above, lung cancer is frequently due to the use of tobacco. Skin cancer is often precipitated by not protecting the skin from radiation damage and sun exposure.

Many other studies indicate that cancer is linked to chemicals in food and the environment. Plastics, exposure to electromagnetic forces and shift work may contribute to breast cancer formation.

So What Does all This Mean?

As a health care practitioner, I find the research interesting and necessary. As an individual who has thrived after having breast cancer many years ago, I am grateful that research is ongoing and hopeful that lives will be saved. I am concerned that people may misinterpret research and adopt the common attitude of, “Well, something is going to kill me. It’s just the luck of the draw. I’ll just do what I want since if one thing doesn’t kill me, something else will.”

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People often don’t realize that these life-threatening illnesses do not just kill you outright. Instead, much suffering is endured along the way by the person afflicted, as well as by those who love them.

The biggest killers in life as far as diseases – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease – all have behavioral and lifestyle components. Even if healthy habits do not prevent a specific type of cancer they are important for preventing a multitude of other ills. More importantly, healthy lifestyles promote well-being that affords you the opportunity to live well for a longer period of time.

No one is powerless in their journey to remain healthy. Every single day smokers, drinkers, overweight people and stressed-out individuals decide to make changes and focus on their health. The most successful individuals start with small steps. They might fall down frequently, but they keep on trying.

Even if a person is affected by a potentially life-threatening illness, there are choices that can be made which alleviate and prevent suffering.

There is always a choice in how we live. It may begin simply with a desire to let go of reacting to an annoying person in life. It may be choosing an organic food which is not treated with pesticides. Some people may choose to seek the assistance of a health care professional to reverse a longtime addiction. What is important is to take a step today and empower yourself to be healthy.

What do you think? How much of our health is simply genetic – and how much lifestyle? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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  1. Well, obviously something is going to get me sooner or later, but I have taken every step I can to make it later. I quit using tobacco twenty years ago; I quit using alcohol fifteen years ago; I keep my weight were it should be and I go to the gym twice a week. I feel great, have no restrictions on any activity, and I look forward to many years and new experiences. If I am run over by a runaway beer truck tomorrow, I know I didn’t cause it.

  2. How long will medicine continue to give Corp pollution a pass on causation of disease? If it is mentioned at all (such as in this article) it is only in passing, at the end, as an afterthought. It’s all very convenient to blame people for their own illnesses when it’s clear that Corp pollution plays a larger role than those who take their money to deflect and deny are willing to admit. Where are the research dollars and studies devoted to cancers caused by Corp pollutants??

    • Corporate pollution is no more or less evil than union pollution or individual pollution.

      The best articles focus on things you can do something about other than just blaming others.

  3. I would venture to say that 10 – 20 % of our genes set us up for disease, the 80 – 90% is our lifestyle.

    What we eat and drink, our exposure to sunshine, the rest we maintain at night (or day), our employment etc.

    What we eat takes half or more of our risk for our bodies not healing they way they were meant to; GMOs and the soil is destroying our food sources. Then there is atmospheric and dumping that ruins our water. The earth is almost dead and with it dying, we are falling apart.

    • No, actually 95% is genetics & chance. That’s the point of this article. There are obviously detrimental activities, like smoking, but even that is strongly influenced by genetics (everybody knows that 94 y/o lady down the street who smokes 4 packs a day. She must have good genes. The rest of us probably don’t.)

      Technology has given us an easier life and more options to fight disease. “Sixty is the new forty” and life expectancy has increased from 67 yrs to 87 yrs since 1965. The good caused by that new tech far outweighs any bad effects so that those bad effects are lost as “noise” in the data. Monsanto may be The Devil incarnate, but it’s a very, very weak devil with no discernible effect on our health.

  4. Life is harder than we like to admit. The older I get I realize how precious each day is whether you are with coworkers, friends or family and to make the most of each moment because we are sharing life temporarily with each other. It’s better to be comfortable as much as possible and to share comfort with everyone we come into contact with because nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. All we have is each moment.

  5. What a blinkered article for ‘Off The Grid News’ to publish; telling us everything we have heard before and instinctively know to be questionable. After ‘decade after decade’ of “intensive research”, we know nothing new about this scourge; and do nothing new. The body is not in the ‘self-destruct’ mode. We hear the same old guidelines like ‘stay out of the sun’ (splash on the chemical sun-screen instead?) Mankind has been living in the sun, the source of life, since time began; and in some of the sunniest, (hottest) places, this ‘disease’ is all but unknown. We are what we eat, and digest – that should be the basic, obvious focus of our attention!

  6. “Mankind has been living in the sun, the source of life, since time began”

    i’m always annoyed that the sun gets blamed while the rise of skin cancer has been ever since Man used atomic bombs. Thousands of tons of highly radioactive dust was blown up into the atmosphere over the decades following WW2 and that will be getting into peoples lungs and lodging in their skin for many generations to come.

    No-one wants to research it of take any blame of course, its easier to blame sunburn.

  7. Kp, I was praising the sun; not blaming it!

  8. GoneWithTheWind

    Most of the serious diseases like heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, are for the most part genetic. You don’t get thenm from what you eat or from some belief that there is radioative dust blowing around. The data is there for all to see. Most cancers, for example, increase their rate as we age. That is twice as many people get lung cancer at age 60 then at age 40 and twice as many get it by age 70 then by age 60. Ditto for strokes and heart attacks. Some people have a genetic propensity to heart disease and die in their 40’s or 50’s while others live into their 80’s and 90’s with never a heart issue. What complicates the relationship between what you eat (and activity) is some of these diseases will benefit from a specific diet and/or activity level. So it’s a simple and common human mistake to assume if diet helps you when you have diabetes or heart disease, etc. then the diet could prevent it. Almost makes sense doesn’t it. I wish it were true. I wish there was a diet you could eat and live a long and healthy life. But even the diet advocates don’t agree on which diet is good. The vegans/vegetarians are just as convinced they are right as are the paleo diet advocates. Then their are the “whole food” bigots and the organic nuts and the anti-gluten/wheat crazies. Don’t even get me started on the vitamin and supplement pushers. But none of it has proven to make a difference. The stats for the big three diseases (heart, cancer, stroke) don’t change with diets or supplements.
    The single best thing you can do for your health is to have selected good parents with good genes. After that it is a crapshoot.

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