Friday, 2 January 2015

Ban Bad Luck Now!


Cancers are one of the biggest causes of death and, leaving aside occasional sociopathic nonsense, we see the mission of finding effective treatment for the disease as a great campaign worth waging. And in recent times we've been told - repeatedly - that it's our fault we get cancer. If we'd only had a different diet, exercised more, drank a little less then we'd have been fine. The old joke that the Daily Mail is seeking to divide everything between stuff that cures cancer and stuff that causes cancer is funny because it's more-or-less true.

Now it seems this public health assault on lifestyle is a little misplaced - the main cause of cancer is bad luck. It's the curse of normal distribution.

Overall, they attributed 65% of tumours to random mutations in genes that can spur cancer growth.

"When someone gets cancer, immediately people want to know why," said oncologist Dr Bert Vogelstein, who conducted the study with Johns Hopkins biomathematician Cristian Tomasetti.

"They like to believe there's a reason. And the real reason in many cases is not because you didn't behave well or were exposed to some bad environmental influence, it's just because that person was unlucky. It's losing the lottery."

In one respect this a pretty depressing. I can hear the fatalist in all of us kicking in as we ponder the fact that getting cancer is a function of probability not lifestyle. With each cell division there's a chance - a minuscule chance - of the mutation that will give you cancer. And the more cell divisions, the more the chance. As D&D players know, one day you're going to roll a one.

There will be a scuttling sound as public health finds a new argument (after all their existence rather depends on being able to prove positive health outcomes from their fussbucketry). But those of us who question the value of modern public health have a little more ammunition now!

Perhaps public health folk could just ban bad luck?


1 comment:

Junican said...

Cancer Research UK has already spun this study. They must have already been aware of it. Seven days ago, CRUK issued this statement:

"Life choices 'behind more than four in 10 cancers'

More than four in 10 cancers - 600,000 in the UK alone - could be prevented if people led healthier lives, say experts.

Latest figures from Cancer Research UK show smoking is the biggest avoidable risk factor, followed by unhealthy diets."

(H/T Chris Snowden)

Very clever spin, do you not think?