A culture of human breast cancer cells. New cancer research suggests random chance plays a bigger role than previously thought. (Ewa Krawczyk/National Cancer Institute via AP)
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Lifestyle and heredity get the most blame but new research suggests random chance plays a bigger role than people realize: Healthy cells naturally make mistakes when they multiply, unavoidable typos in DNA that can leave new cells carrying cancer-prone genetic mutations.Sometimes the errors hit the wrong spot and damage genes that can spur cancerous growth or genes that help the cell spot and fix problems. Then the damaged cells can survive to copy themselves, allowing important mutations to gradually build up over time. Thursday's study follows 2015 research by Vogelstein and statistician Cristian Tomasetti that introduced the idea that a lot of cancer may be due to "bad luck," because those random DNA copying mistakes are more common in some kinds of cancer than others. Environmental and lifestyle factors account for another 29 percent, while inherited genes made up just 5 percent of the mutations.The random DNA mistakes caused nearly all the mutations leading to childhood cancers, which is not surprising because youngsters have had little time to be exposed to environmental risks.
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