King WD, Friedenreich CM, Brenner DR, De P, Demers PA, Hystad P, Nutall R, Villeneuve PJ, Walter SD. The contribution of lifestyle, environment, genetics and chance to cancer risk in individuals and populations. Commentary. Preventive Medicine 2015;76:132-134.
A paper published in Science in January 2015 drew much attention from the press, and was misinterpreted as attributing a substation portion of the variation in cancer incidence to ‘chance or bad luck’, and minimizing the role of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental risk factors. This resulted in many news articles minimizing the importance of prevention and reducing exposure to modifiable risk factors.
The results of this study were interpreted incorrectly. Substantial evidence shows how environment, lifestyle, and genetic factors have roles in cancer risk for different cancer sites. The causes of cancer are complex, and are likely a combination of genetics, lifestyle, environment, and random error in cell replication and control.
The question of how much of the incidence of cancer in a population is due to modifiable risk factors versus genetic risk factors or chance is important as it addresses the potential for cancer prevention initiatives. Many studies have found that a large proportion of cancers are due to modifiable risk factors. Educating the public and policy-makers of the impact of modifiable risk factors for cancer is critically important for prevention.