Or Maybe It is Not Bad Luck
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
MARCH 30, 2017
Yesterday's entry was about a new paper suggesting that most mutations that result in cancer are just plain old bad luck. It does not matter what we eat or how we manage stress or whether we meditate; we just don't have that kind of control over our bodies. As a semi-related aside, if you have not read it, I strongly recommend that you read The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It is a wonderful book that reads like a fine novel and gives us an understanding of the complexity of cancer. Once you have read it, you will much better appreciate the difficulties and problems that scientists face as they try to unravel the mysteries.
Today's article is from The Atlantic and gives the opposing perspective--that is, it suggests that maybe it is more than bad luck. I think this is an interesting conversation and just more proof that no one really knows what causes cancer, let alone how to prevent it or cure it.
No, We Can’t Say Whether Cancer Is Mostly Bad Luck
Two years ago, Time wrongly reported that “Most cancer is beyond your control.” The Guardian incorrectly wrote: “Two-thirds of adult cancers largely ‘down to bad luck’ rather than genes.” And the BBC misleadingly said: “Most cancer types ‘just bad luck.’” All of these deceptive headlines arose from a widely misinterpreted study that looked at the role of random chance in initiating cancers.
That paper was itself criticized for a slew of methodological flaws, and spawned more than a hundred rebuttals. Its authors are now back with a follow-up, which reads like a weird blend of doubling-down, clarification, and mea culpa. Although they’ve gone some way towards addressing the problems of their first paper, their critics still say they’ve made several of the same conceptual mistakes. And once again, their work has led to similarly botched headlines. Ultimately, this story reveals less about why people do or don’t get cancers, and more about how hard it is to talk or think about these diseases.