Cancer is mostly a result of external, environmental risk factors rather than down to “bad luck,” according to a new study published in Nature magazine, which challenges prominent research into the causes of cancer.
Research into the causes of the disease have prompted clashes between scientists in recent months, with one study published in the journal Science earlier this year suggesting that two thirds of cancers were caused by chance – just plain old “bad luck,” the study said — rather than environmental factors or inherited predispositions.
The study was controversial as it implied that cancer, put down to the malignant transformation of cells that multiply within the body, was largely unavoidable and that it came down to the number of times a cell divides (giving rise to the “bad luck” conclusion).
The latest study on cancer development in Nature challenged the “bad luck” hypothesis, however, concluding that cancer risk is “heavily influenced by extrinsic factors” with only 10-30 percent of cancers down to intrinsic risk factors such as mutations.
The study was conducted by a team of doctors, including Song Wu, Scott Powers, Wei Zhu and led by Yusuf Hannun, at Stony Brook University in New York.
They found that there was a “substantial contribution of external risk factors to cancer development” including environmental factors like ultraviolet (UV) radiation and carcinogens, such as smoking,
Summarizing their findings, they said the results were important for “strategizing cancer prevention, research and public health.”
Both studies come at a time of increased spending on cancer treatments by national health bodies and drug research by pharmaceutical companies.
Total global spending on cancer medications reached the $100 billion threshold in 2014, according to a report by the U.S.-based IMS Institute for healthcare informatics released in May.
Growth in global spending on cancer drugs – measured using ex-manufacturer prices and not reflecting off-invoice discounts, rebates or patient access programs – increased at a compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent on a constant-dollar basis during the past five years,” the institute said in the report.
Spending on oncology – the study and treatment of cancers and tumors – remains concentrated among the U.S. and five largest European countries, which together account for 66 percent of the total market, it added.
Pharmaceutical companies are keen not to miss out on increased spending. U.K. pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced on Thursday that it was to bolster its blood cancer treatment portfolio by buying a 55 percent stake in Acerta Pharma in a deal valued at $4 billion dollars.