Johns Hopkins: cancer is primarily ‘bad luck’

Two scientists at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Dr. Bert Vogelstein, the Clayton Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and ‘bio-mathematician’ and assistant Professor, Cristian Tomasetti, Ph.D. published a study on January 2nd in the journal Science, which concluded that two-thirds of adult cancer incidence across tissues can be explained primarily by ‘bad luck’.

The scientists created a mathematical model by searching the scientific literature for information on the cumulative number of divisions of stem cells among 31 tissue types during an average individual’s lifetime. They then charted the number of stem cell divisions in these tissues and plotted them against the incidence of cancer. For example, in colon tissue there are 4 times more cell divisions than occur in the small intestine, and cancer is more prevalent in the former. QED.

“It was well-known that cancer arises when tissue specific stem cells make random mistakes, or mutations during cell replication”, said Vogelstein.

Let’s get real

1. Firstly, neither prostate nor breast cancer were covered in the research since the researchers could not obtain reliable data on stem cell divisions. So that would rule out almost one third of all cancers in the UK. And we are always being told by the UK ‘Brand leader’ Cancer Research, that these are largely hormonally driven, with factors such as oestrogen, lack of exercise and obesity playing a big part. If the new research is correct, and it were to apply to breast and prostate cancers as well, how has CRUK made such a big error? Just bad luck, perhaps?

2. Secondly, I will hazard a guess that the number of stem cell divisions in a tissue occurs in line with the number of overall cell divisions. And what the scientists actually showed was that there was a link between more cell divisions in a tissue and an increased risk of cancer. Hardly, new thinking really.

3. But if it is all about stem cells do the conclusions mean that someone in New York has many more stem cell divisions in their lungs than someone in China, or Kenya, where cancer incidence is considerably lower? The UK population must have 4 times the stem cell division of Thais; with almost exactly the same population we get four times the number of cancers they do. Why would that be?? Would the increased rate of stem cell division in New York or London not constitute a cause? Or are Thais just four times luckier than Londoners?

4. Next, having shown a link between cell division volumes and cancer volumes, our plucky duo made a mental jump: “It was well-known that cancer arises when tissue specific stem cells make random mistakes, or mutations during cell replication”, Well known to whom? In 2012 scientists were still arguing whether there was such a thing as a cancer stem cell.

And the idea that cancer is caused by mutations to the core DNA is quaintly old fashioned. Indeed the modern theory of cancer (being confirmed by scientists week in, week out) is that not much happens to the core DNA (and when it does the immune system easily spots it as rogue). Instead, chemicals like homocysteine build up in the blood stream and cause more methylation around the DNA coil. This holds histones in place, which in turn hold the integrity and shape of the DNA in the nucleus.

When the histones cover a gene responsible for, say, controlled cellular division, it cannot send out its messages, it is silenced, and the cell starts dividing randomly. It is important to note that this methylation and acetylation is believed to be reversible by literally thousands of scientists currently working for drugs companies and University Medical Schools. The science is called Epigenetics (Epi=around, the gene). Drugs companies believe they can affect the methylation and acetylation directly; or indirectly via the enzymes that cause it.

Other scientists believe that there are a host of natural compounds (from sulphoraphanes to carotenoids) that can do this, as can exercise hormones. Indeed, Epigeneticists argue that there are clearly 4 causes of DNA blockages – environmental toxins, stress, poor diet and hormones such as oestrogen.

So, are these epigenetic scientists all wrong?

Where hypotheses and statistics meet

A statistician is someone who will tell you that it’s better to have a watch that is broken (it is right twice a day), than one that loses 7 minutes a day (it is right once every thirteen days).

I have decided to look at road accidents in Britain (London and Manchester were excluded because there were no reliable statistics). Now, it is widely accepted that council road administrators allow too many non-UK-qualified lorry drivers to drive on the roads. And sure enough, we have found that the number of road deaths is proportional to the increases in foreign lorries on our roads. It doesn’t fit exactly (but to about an 80% level) and it differs by the 31 regions we looked at. So if you die in a road accident it has little to do with your skills as a driver, or how fast you were going, or the weather conditions. The number of foreign lorry drivers being allowed on our roads by a lack of legislation is behind it. Just bad luck really.

What is odd though is that this conclusion doesn’t hold true in Africa or China. So I’ll leave that out of my model.


So, thanks to Johns Hopkins, science has a new bed fellow: Bad luck. It’s the devil’s work. No need to feel guilty about your gluttony and sloth – just ‘eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow ye may die’.

No need for CRUK or the Government to feel guilty about failing to do anything serious in the way of Cancer Prevention Programmes in the community. You can’t legislate for bad luck. It would be pointless spending billions of pounds telling people to eat healthily, exercise and give up smoking if cancer occurs ‘for no particular reason other than randomness’ (according to Tomasetti).

If 65% of cancers are just bad luck, and we add on the 20% known to be caused by parasites and viruses (according to the WHO), then we certainly aren’t left with much that is to do with our sloth and gluttony. ‘50% of cancers are your own fault’ said CRUK 5 years ago. ‘30-50% of cancers are due to your poor diets’ said the WHO. ‘At least half of all cancers are preventable’. Oh no they’re not says a mathematical model (that left two of the biggest out).

Food companies that sell junk, have no case to answer. Lucky for them. What of the legal cases in the USA where people sue cigarette companies or mobile phone companies for not warning them that their products cause cancer? Presumably your bad luck is now lucky for these companies.

At CANCERactive we were helping a patient with oesophageal cancer. She had had bad acid reflux for ten years and been on a drug the whole time. A trip to the manufacturer’s website said that ‘on no account should the drug be prescribed for more than six months’. The woman asked her doctor what he thought caused her cancer. ‘Just bad luck’ was his reply. Johns Hopkins have vindicated him. His mis-prescription of the drug was irrelevant.

But there’s a get out clause in the model: “We found that the types of cancer that had a higher risk than predicted by the number of cell divisions, were precisely the one’s you’d expect” (lung cancer – linked to smoking; skin cancer – linked to sun exposure). So, other factors do cause deviation from their model. Lucky, I spotted that.

Junk science

The new science of ‘Bad luck’ is a dangerous concept. It removes the need for people to exert any self-control. The implication is that you can make little difference to prevent your cancer (and thus can make little difference to prevent it returning – so it is pointless doing anything to help treat your condition). Self-empowerment for patients goes out of the window. You might as well stay fat, not exercise, carry on smoking and just place your total faith in your good doctor’s hands. And luck.

Except, isn’t it lucky for us that The American Cancer Society have produced a 2012 report saying that since 2006 there has been an ‘explosion’ in research, and ‘overwhelming’ evidence that good diet, weight control and exercise can increase survival and even prevent a cancer returning.

Except, isn’t it lucky for us that the Karolinska Institute has produced straight line graphs on the links between cows’ dairy consumption and prostate, breast and ovarian cancers; or that Bristol University produced a meta-study on 52 research reports concluding that people who exercised regularly developed less cancers, and that those with cancer who exercised regularly, survived longer.

Watch out for the follow up study: ‘It is just bad luck that the chemotherapy didn’t work for you’. (Well it wouldn’t anyway because there is no drug available today that tackles cancer stem cells.)

What bad luck.

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Junk Science Number 4: Prostate cancer – the King has got no clothes on.

Older readers may remember a song by Danny Kaye which was about a King riding on horse back through the streets in his finery – except that he actually had no clothes on. It took a little boy to start singing ‘the King is in the altogether’, for people to wake up to the fact that he was actually naked.

Why do I always feel like that little boy when people talk to me about Prostate cancer? I could talk about several aspects of its treatment – today I just want to talk about the ‘chemotherapy’ part.

Consider theses findings from research:

1.  An enlarged prostate afflicts most men in the Western World over 50 years of age. The cause is known to be oestrogen – the female sex hormone. In fact, anti-oestrogen drugs like finasteride are prescribed to reduce the enlargement.

2.  Sometimes this swollen prostate gland becomes cancerous. You may not even realize it. According to a study of men killed in motoring accidents, about two thirds of those over 50 years of age were happily wandering life’s path with prostate cancer and had little idea. Most prostate cancers are slow growing.

3.  There are research studies from Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney covered in CANCERactive’s research centre, Cancer Watch, that show you need the presence of both testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oestrogen to develop prostate cancer.

4.  The conundrum was answered when a Dr Thompson of MD Anderson in Texas showed that nice safe testosterone is converted by oestrogen into something very nasty called DHT, and it is that compound which drives prostate cancer.

Now all this seems pretty clear to me. Added research supports it:

5.  Cancer Watch has also covered research that shows 13 chemicals can drive the process – all of them were xenoestrogens, or oestrogen mimics. It is possible that selenium can work to displace heavy metals and chemicals from the tissues – there is German research on the benefits of selenium in prostate cancer prevention.

6. Professor Robert Thomas (former Pfeizer oncologist of the Year) specializes in prostate cancer and believes getting newly diagnosed patients onto a diet of broccoli and tomatoes, plus daily exercise can delay the need for surgery by at least a year. Broccoli contains indole3carbinol, known to denature aggressive oestrogen, while tomatoes contain lycopene which reduces circulating fat levels in the blood and thus reduces the formation of oestrogens.

7 . Women with oestrogen-driven breast cancer are often given ‘Aromatase Inhibitors’ – oestroegen is produced in the ovaries until menopause, but after this time some is still produced in the kidneys and from fat stores in the body. Men produce it this way too. Aromatase Inhibitors aim to cut all this production –in women.

8.  Oestrogen is known to cause cancers. Oestradiol binds with cell receptor sites and creates havoc within the cell; oestrogen can cause stem cells to stay in a rapidly dividing state. I could go on. Even Cancer Research has stated that Oestrogen drives cancers.


I have 6 friends between the ages of 57 and 63 all with prostate cancer. They all ask me what to do. A couple have had their operations (more on that another time) and their oncologist is now working on ways to CUT THEIR TESTOSTERONE.

You see all of them have been told they have prostate cancer because they have high testosterone. What bollocks is this? If high testosterone caused prostate cancer, every 16 year old male in the world would have it. They’d be dropping like flies. It is completely illogical.

When we conducted an icon (Integrated Cancer and Oncology News) magazine interview with a top Prostate oncologist in London, he confirmed that there were several treatments for men with advance prostate cancer all designed to reduce testosterone levels.

But nowhere is there any research evidence that Testosterone causes cancer in cells, whereas there is a stack of it about oestrogen. I have written a book entitled ‘Oestrogen – the killer in our midst’; I could not even fill a postage stamp for testosterone.

Our intrepid London Oncologist was then asked about this ‘logic gap’ and replied that oestrogen as the driver of prostate cancer was an interesting theory, but he found that using oestrogen as a treatment ‘worked’, so the theory could not be right.

Now I don’t want to split hairs here but it seems to me the key word here is ‘Worked’.

We are told that prostate cancer is a slow growing disease. Why is it then that the 5-year survival rate in the UK for proste cancer in Eurocare 3 was 54 per cent, and this rose to barely 60 per cent seven years later after the new Government Cancer Plan, stacks of money, and all these new treatments (Eurocare 4)? We are one of the worst countries for 5-year survival in Europe. In Eurocare 3 Austria led the field at 83 per cent, now many countries in Europe are between 80 and 90 per cent.

‘Worked’? A healthy body is in a state of homeostasis – it means all your hormones are balanced. Throw one out and they all go out of kilter. But the body tries to get back to how it should be. Swamp the body with oestrogen and, sure, the testosterone levels will fall away. But in the end, they will gradually rise. And do you know what happens in prostate patients treated with oestrogen? Yup, you’ve guessed it – about three years on their testosterone rises. Now they are in real trouble. The testosterone is rising and the body is flooded with oestrogen. There was a test at Barts Hospital, London, on a treatment using natural compounds – the relevant comment from the oncologist there was, ‘Well, in cases of advanced prostate cancer after hormone treatment has failed we have little to offer patients’. That says it all.

My other three friends with prostate cancer? Well they listened to me. None had an operation, none receives drugs, all are on a strict diet, supplements and exercise. And at their hospitals they are on ‘Active Surveillance’. They have been in a balanced state for three years – as I said at the start, prostate cancer is slow growing. But then they didn’t throw bucket loads of oestrogen on the fire.

Does the sun spin round the earth, or the earth spin round the sun? You decide. cancer, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

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