Cancers due to ‘bad luck’ ?


Yes, you read it right. Most cancers are due to ‘bad luck’, according to scientists. Random mutations during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells results in cancer. Some tissues end up becoming cancerous million times more than other tissues. This is due to random mutations in the DNA in these tissues. The study shows that the risk of cancer is strongly proportional to the total number of divisions undergone by normal self-renewing cells maintaining the tissue’s homeostasis. Only a third of cancers are due to environmental factors or inherited predispositions; the rest are due to so called ‘bad luck’ mutations in the DNA due to unknown factors.

Researchers Bert Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti charted the number of stem cell divisions in 31 tissue types and compared them with the lifetime risks of cancer in the same tissues among Americans. “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,” says Vogelstein. This will not be good news for patients, as they do not want to hear ‘We do not know’ from doctors, when they ask ‘Why?’

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Disclaimer: This article does not reflect any personal views of the authors/editors

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Scientist-entrepreneur-manager-journalist: -Co-founder, Author; Former Assistant Editor and Director, Biotechin.Asia, Biotech Media Pte. Ltd.; -Founder & CEO, SciGlo (; -Programme Management Officer, SBIC, A*STAR (former Research Fellow). --Sandhya graduated from University of Madras, India (B.Sc Microbiology and M.Sc Biotechnology) and received her Ph.D from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She worked on oxidative stress in skin, skeletal, adipose tissue and cardiac muscle for a decade from 2006-2016. She is currently working as a Programme Management Officer handling projects and grants at Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Earlier to this she was a Research Fellow in the Fat Metabolism and Stem Cell Group at SBIC. Sandhya was also the Vice President and Publicity Chair of A*PECSS (A*STAR Post Doc Society) (2014-2016). Recently she founded a platform for scientists - SciGlo ( and is a startup mentor at Vertical VC (Finland). She is an ardent lover of science and enjoys globe trotting and good vegetarian food.