What Causes Cancer? Bad Luck, Johns Hopkins Says

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We’re regularly bombarded with messages telling us to not smoke, avoid tanning beds, and avoid other activities likely to cause cancer. But according to recent research out of Johns Hopkins, the most common factor determining whether or not someone gets cancer isn’t our actions or activities; it’s not even our genetic history. Instead, it’s the one thing we can’t control: luck.

The Hopkins research found that more than two-thirds of cancer cases of many different kinds weren’t because of bad habits or bad genes, but rather bad luck — that is, random mutations that can’t really be predicted or prevented. The news cuts the other way, too: “Cancer-free longevity in people exposed to cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco, is often attributed to their ‘good genes,’ but the truth is that most of them simply had good luck,” Hopkins oncologist Bert Vogelstein told the Hopkins Hub.

No, this doesn’t mean you should take up smoking and stop exercising; unhealthy habits are still just that: unhealthy habits. But the researchers point out that since so many cancer cases are random, public health might be better served by focusing on early detection.

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