Filed Under:  U.S. & World

Study Finds Most Cancers Caused by Random Mutations

Contributed by on January 4, 2015 at 10:48 pm

Cancer woman reading

Woman with cancer reading a book in bed

The January 2, 2015 edition of Science Magazine has released the findings of a Johns Hopkins study which concludes that two-thirds of cancer cases are caused by random mutations of cells. Only one-third of cancers, then, are caused by environmental and hereditary factors.


It has long been understood that random mutations as well as other, more controllable factors, such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, are a factor in causing cancer. However, researchers have not previously investigated what proportion of cancer cases are the result of random mutations.


Doctors Bert Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti explain that some tissues in the human body regenerate faster than others; this is a previously established fact in the scientific community. Vogelstein and Tomasetti’s research demonstrates that the rates of cancer statistically correlate to the speed with which new cells replace old cells, meaning that the tissues with the highest regenerative rates, like the brain, the small intestines, and the pancreas, were likely to have been caused by random mutations and not by lifestyle choices or family history.


But don’t pick up that cigarette quite yet. The Johns Hopkins team made it clear that, although only about a third of cancers can be directly traced back to family history, viruses, or lifestyle, those cancers remain some of the most common, including colon cancer, lung cancer, and basal cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer).


While maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, and limiting sun exposure do not guarantee that a person will not develop cancer in their lifetime, they still remain important measures in prevention. Furthermore, the researchers explain that their findings make the need to improve early detection and treatments all the more necessary in the fight against cancer.