‘Bad luck’ with random DNA errors responsible for two-thirds of cancer mutations

About two-thirds of the mutations that put people at risk for cancer result from unavoidable and random DNA errors, according to new research.

cancer cells under a microscopeStudy authors Bert Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti submit in their findings, published March 24 in the journal Science, that the risk of cancer is the result of random cell mutations rather than environmental toxins or poor lifestyle choices. This suggests that there is not much people can do to prevent certain cancers. Still one third of cancers have life style risks like smoking, alcohol, obesity, certain chemical exposures and immunizable infections like Hepatitis B and HPV where choices make a difference.

The researchers looked at data from 32 kinds of cancer and 69 countries. They found that 66 percent of genetic mutations that increase the risk of cancer result from random DNA errors.

“[These results are] a complete paradigm shift in how we think about cancer and what causes cancer,” Tomasetti said.

Even so, some scientists are skeptical of the study and insist on the role of the environment when it comes to the risk of developing cancer.

The study was supported by the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Research on Cancer and the Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. Study authors declared no conflict of interest.

Written by: Katherine Heighway | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.