Decoding the causes: understanding why cancer develops

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Cancer is a silent enemy, lurking and growing in our bodies. Some of the most common cancers in the United States, like skin and lung cancers, are largely preventable.

These can be traced back to harmful habits such as prolonged exposure to UV light or smoking tobacco.

But how much of the blame for a person’s cancer is on preventable actions compared to aging or chance? A recent study from Yale University offers some clues.

The Culprits: DNA Changes

Scientists have made strides in identifying how specific factors can lead to mutations in the genome, altering the DNA in our tissues. In this study, the researchers went a step further.

They examined specific genetic mutations associated with preventable exposures like UV light, which can drive tumor growth in 24 types of cancer.

Assigning the Blame: Known and Unknown Factors

The researchers developed a method that can quantify the contribution of each mutation to the development of cancer.

This allowed them to pinpoint what percentage of cancer development could be attributed to known factors, unknown factors, and those that are preventable.

The Verdict: Some Cancers Are More Controllable

According to the study, some cancers are more controllable than others. For instance, bladder and skin cancers can be largely attributed to preventable factors.

However, prostate cancers and gliomas are predominantly due to internal processes associated with aging.

Implications: Potential in Public Health

The findings of this study could be of immense help in public health. Populations or professionals that have high rates of cancer might be able to use this information to uncover exposure to carcinogenic substances.

By identifying the proportion of factors leading to tumor growth, it may be possible to spot the underlying causes and intervene earlier.

Future Steps: More Research Needed

The study, while promising, does not encompass all the genetic changes that lead to tumors. More research is needed to fully understand complex genetic changes, such as duplicated genes or chromosomes.

But with further work, this research could help public health officials detect cancer sources faster, potentially saving lives.

This research was conducted by Jeffrey Townsend and his team and was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

If you care about cancer, please see recent studies about new ways to increase the longevity of cancer survivors, and results showing new ways to supercharge cancer-fighting T cells.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects the risks of heart disease and cancer and results showing that vitamin D supplements could strongly reduce cancer death.

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