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Cancer as a Random Event

Posted 8/5/2015

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  We are always looking for a reason. Why did this happen to me? What did I eat or not eat? Why can't I better handle stress? What have I been exposed to? Did I not manage anger well? Is cancer punishment for something that I did in this or, even, in an earlier lifetime?

  A recent article in Science indicated that cancer is a random event. That a perfect storm of errors must occur biologically for our beautiful bodies to lose control in this way. Since I spent a lot of time (as recently as yesterday) talking to people about this and trying to convince them that they are not at fault in any way for their disease, I found this a wonderful article.

  This essay is even more wonderful as an oncologist from Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland speaks both to the relief of this proof and the human need to find meaning in suffering. Here is the start and then a link. It is well worth your time.

The Implications of “Random Chance” in Cancer Genesis Why Stochastic Can Be a Dirty Word  ONLINEFIRSTBarry R. Meisenberg, MD1

he recent publication in Science of calculations implying that oncogenesis is a “stochastic” (ie, random) process and that cancer results from “bad luck”1 was widely reported in the media.2 The poignant, often emotional comments that followed startled some3 but not those of us who care for cancer patients professionally. Years of patient interactions could have foretold that the “Why me?” question is an essential and sensitive subject for actual human beings living with cancer—and for loved ones left behind. TheScience article reports no new experiments but rather extensive mathematical calculations with existing data from SEER (the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program) regarding cancer incidence in different tissues and rates of stem cell division in those same tissues. Since DNA transcription errors are known to occur at similar rates in different tissues,1 the authors hypothesized that there should be a close correlation between stem cell division rates and cancer incidence rates if cancer is a result of random mutations to those stem cells. The authors found this precise correlation across cancers that vary in incidence by 5 orders of magnitude. They concluded that two-thirds of the difference in cancer incidence rates between types of tissue could be explained by random error during DNA transcription, or to use the authors’ own term, “bad luck.”



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