We all have heard the mantra. Eat this to prevent cancer. Do this exercise to lower risk. Stand on one foot and live to 90. Ok, the last one is bull, I think. But, you get the point. We are fed a continuous stream of information on how to avoid cancer.

For some cases, this can work. One-third of cases are attributed to environmental factors. Some of those cases are due to inherited genes. The other two-thirds? Chalk it up to genetic bad luck. Random mutations when stem cells divide. Stem cells regenerate and replace cells when they die off. If the cells make a mistake when the division occurs, cancer can develop.

This doesn’t mean smoke ‘em if you got them, as lifestyle choices play a role in developing cancer. What it shows is that an unlucky roll of the cellular dice plays a key role in a person developing a variety of cancers.

Dr. Bert Vogelstein, professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins explained the breakdown. “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.”

Researchers are pointing out this could dramatically shift the perception of cancer. The bad luck factor could also change how cancer research is funded. According to Crisitan Tomasetti, a biomathematician at Hopkins, the answer lies in diagnosing and treating early.

“If two-thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then changing our lifestyle and habits will be a huge help in preventing certain cancers, but this may not be as effective for a variety of others.”

“We should focus more resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages.”

We can help our odds by making critical lifestyle choices. Don’t smoke. Quit testing the world record at the local buffet. Exercise. Everything you heard still needs to be heeded.

A study, published in Science, found that 22 types of cancers could be explained by the random mutations. Areas of greater stem cell divide had higher occurrences of cancer. Take for example the colon over the small intestine. The colon has four times the stem cell division activity. Researchers believe that is why colon cancer is more prominent than cancer of the small intestine.

There is an argument to be made the colon is exposed to more environmental factors versus the small intestine, which could lead to a higher probability of cancer.

The takeaway of this? Do everything you can to be a healthy. It won’t always work, but a doctor will never tell you to quit eating a healthy diet. Or tell you to go full couch potato.

The full study was published in this week’s Science.

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