“All cancers are genetic,” the genetic oncologist might say. If asked to elaborate, they might explain that “all cancers begin when one or more genes in a cell are mutated (changed), creating an abnormal protein or no protein at all” (cancer net). If asked what that means for relatives, they would note that “only about 5% to 10% of all cancers result directly from gene defects… inherited from a parent” (American Cancer Society).
“Researchers have estimated that as many as 2 in 3 cases of cancer (67 percent) are linked to some type of environmental factor, including use–or abuse–of tobacco, alcohol, and food, as well as exposures to radiation, infectious agents, and substances in the air, water, and soil” (National Cancer Institute).
“Most cancers are environmental,” the health activist might say. If asked to elaborate, they might point to researchers who note that “only 5–10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects [which means that] the remaining 90–95% have their roots in the environment and lifestyle” (Anand et al. 2008). The same researchers conclude that “cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes,” while the health activist might question whether exposure to environmental pollutants or carcinogenic viruses is best thought of as a “lifestyle choice.” (Who is choosing to be susceptible to cervical cancer when politicians and parents oppose HPV vaccination for pre-teens?)
Anand, P. et al. (2008). “Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes,” Pharm Res. 25(9): 2097–2116.
(Introduction to this series of posts)