MAY 05, 2017 02:58 PM PDT

Cancer's Biggest Edge Comes From DNA Copying Errors


Here's a perplexing and unsettling reality: People who do their best to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including limiting exposure to unhealthy environments, can reduce their cancer risks, at best, by 40 percent. Cancer can still strike for the other 60 percent of the time, despite our most conscious health efforts.

This conundrum has troubled cancer biologists for years. By facing it squarely again, scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine say the root of the problem rests in DNA copying mistakes in cells. In two-thirds of the time, cancer arises due to genetic typos caused by errors in DNA replication.

In a many other cancer types, random DNA mistakes account for a significant percentage of the critical mutations that contribute to cancer development. In fact, when analyzed across all 32 cancer types, random DNA copying errors account for 66 percent of the risks, while 29 percent is attributed to environmental exposure, and the remaining 5 percent is due to heredity.

Although it seems grim, researchers say you can still can take steps to minimize cancer-causing mutations by limiting your exposure to hazardous substances and unhealthy lifestyles.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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