Cancer ‘is due to bad luck’ claim is challenged

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The Northern Ireland Public Health Agency has rejected claims that most cancers are due to “bad luck”.

New research has suggested that most cases of cancer are the result of sheer bad luck rather than unhealthy lifestyles, diet or even inherited genes. Random mutations that occur in DNA when cells divide are responsible for two thirds of adult cancers across a wide range of tissues, a study has shown;

The remaining third are linked to environmental factors or defective inherited genes, the report said.

Professor Bert Vogelstein, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US, said: “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.

“This study shows that you can add to your risk of getting cancers by smoking or other poor lifestyle factors. However, many forms of cancer are due largely to the bad luck of acquiring a mutation in a cancer driver gene regardless of lifestyle and heredity factors.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency took issue with the claims.

“It’s not true for many cancers and it would be harmful to people if they think they can’t do anything to prevent cancer,” she said. “The most effective ways to prevent cancer are to not smoke; only drink alcohol in moderation; use high factor sunblock; attend for bowel, cervical and breast cancer screening when invited and for girls to take the HPV vaccine (humanpapilloma virus) when offered. Smoking is known to cause cancer of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, larynx, and others. Not smoking prevents these cancers – luck has nothing to do with it.”