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Cancer Caused By Bad DNA Mistakes, New Study Shows

First Posted: Mar 24, 2017 04:32 AM EDT
Research Into Cancer Conducted At The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
A scientist uses a warm water bath to help stick thin tissue sections to microscope slides for analysis, at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.
(Photo : Dan Kitwood/Cancer Research UK/Getty Images)

Cancer, in its many shapes and forms, takes lives out of millions of people every year. However, it turns out that those who battle any form of this disease at any point in their lives are just truly unlucky people.

Live Science reported that a new study found most cancer cases to be caused by very random mistakes in a person's DNA. These mistakes and mutations, which can appear due to small errors in the DNA, can make cells multiply or grow out of control. Before this was discovered, scientists thought mutations can either be inherited or a result of outside factors damaging the DNA. However, as it turns out, the third cause -- which is really just a random mistake -- accounts for two thirds of the mutations.

As explained by the journal Science, cells copy their DNA for each division, which means that new cells will have their own version of genetic material. However, for each time this copying happens, more opportunities for mistakes also occur.

In many cases, these mistakes can lead to cancer. This is why cancer can occur "no matter how perfect the environment," says study author Bert Vogelstein, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In fact, there are some types of cancer that can be attributed mainly from random mistakes, such as brain cancer and prostate cancer. Researchers found that random mistakes actually caused over 95 percent of these cancer cases. Environmental factors, however, still affect others. Lung cancer, for instance, can be attributed to smoking 65 percent of the time.

A single cell mutation is unlikely to cause cancer. So the more mutations there are, the more likely it is for cells to turn cancerous. This is why mutations from random mistakes can be enough to cause cancer all by themselves.

Cristian Tomasetti explained the error by way of typos. He said that some typos can be the result of tired and/or distracted typists (environmental factors), with typists using a missing or damaged keys (hereditary factors) or sometimes even when the typist is relaxed and using a working keyboard, typos still occur (random error). Unfortunately, primary prevention is not possible for those cancers that are caused by random errors, which is why to avoid cancers altogether, "we need to focus more on early detection," Tomasetti said.

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