Scientists split over role of lifestyle in causing cancer


It is the clash of the scientific titans. The query at situation: to what degree is building cancer simply down to poor luck, rather than the toxic effect of our genes and our life style or surroundings?

That smoking is a lead to of lung cancer is an established reality. But to what extent can cancer normally be averted? On that, scientists are divided.

In the red corner, a mathematician and a cancer researcher from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who claimed in the journal Science earlier this yr that as numerous as two-thirds of all cancers were down to luck rather than variables this kind of as smoking.

In the blue corner, two cancer researchers from Stonybrook University in New York who have this week responded in the journal Nature claiming the reverse – at least two- thirds of cancers (and potentially up to 90 per cent) are triggered by environmental publicity to carcinogens – and are consequently possibly avoidable.

Who is right? Whatever the answer, this is a crucial battle. What is the level in paying hundreds of thousands persuading the public to adopt healthier lifestyles if we can keep away from only 10 per cent of cancers that way? It would be much better to put the funds in direction of earlier detection.

Cancer occurs when stem cells in the body go all of a sudden rogue and divide out of management, making cancerous growths. This may possibly be established internally, by the way cells operate, or externally by factors this kind of as tobacco smoke, sunlight and infections.

Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, from John Hopkins University, argued in Science that although there are some apparent extrinsic aspects that result in cancer, this kind of as tobacco smoke, the essential determinant was the number of times the cells in a distinct tissue divide. The much more divisions, the better the possibility of a mutation taking place. But this is past our management, so we should cease worrying about preventing it and focus on detecting it.

Back came Yusuf Hannun and his group from Stonybrook University this week, who argued in Nature that mutations in the course of cell division rarely develop up to generate cancer, even in tissues with higher charges of cell division. Exposure to an environmental carcinogen, such as cigarettes or sunlight, is nearly usually essential.

Dr Hunnan notes that cancer incidence varies all around the planet. Breast cancer is 5 instances larger in western Europe than in eastern Asia, and prostate cancer 25 times larger in Australia and New Zealand – the highest charge in the world – than south-central Asia. However individuals who migrate from Asia obtain the increased danger of the new nation.


No single risk issue has been recognized for breast and prostate cancer, suggesting their brings about are complicated. But for others the image is clearer, they say. For colorectal cancer, 75 per cent of the threat is attributable to diet regime, and close to 90 per cent cervical cancer is attributable to infection with human papilloma virus, preventable by vaccination.

The flaw in the earlier paper, Dr Hannun explained, was that it regarded as inner and external elements as independent. Yet we know radiation triggers cancer, and it does so by affecting inner stem cell division prices.

All round, 70 to 90 per cent of cancer is preventable, he said. But that depends on being aware of what to steer clear of and, importantly, possessing the will to keep away from it.

Asmaa Mubita is a Kenyan journalist of international repute with over fifteen years of experience in broadcast journalism. Asmaa Mubita began his journalism career at the Kenyan state broadcaster (KBC) and later worked at the KTN owned by the Standard Group and Citizen Television, the flagship brand of Royal Media Services. These exploits together with his reporting experience with the Voice of America, CNN and BBC have been rewarded with local and global recognition.