Study suggests 90% of cancers have more to do with behavior than raw bad luck

Flying in the face of a January study in Science suggesting that two-thirds of cancers result from random cell mutations—i.e., bad luck—a new study in Nature points to behavioral factors (smoking, eating poorly, being exposed to pollution and the sun) as the culprit in nine of every 10.

The new study was conducted at Stony Brook Cancer Center on Long Island.

Speaking with BBC News about the study Dec. 17, co-author Yusuf Hannun, MD, director of the center, sums up the ramifications of the team’s findings in vivid terms: He compares engaging in the behavioral risk factors with playing Russian roulette.

“[M]aybe one in six will get cancer; that's the intrinsic bad luck,” says Hannun. “Now, what a smoker does is add two or three more bullets to that revolver. And now, they pull the trigger.

“There is still an element of luck, as not every smoker gets cancer, but they have stacked the odds against them[selves].

“From a public health point of view, we want to remove as many bullets as possible from the chamber.”

News article and videos on the BBC News website.

Study in Nature (behind paywall).