Bert Vogelstein, an influential scientist, published just recently on Science, an article that has since been crucial in the comprehension of the genetic molecular mechanisms that cause cancer. However, beyond the original aim of the author, this article has been misinterpreted in such a way, that now people think that cancer is just a matter of bad luck.
Professor Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University, wrote an article on “Corriere della Sera” restating, that early diagnoses and prevention play a big role against cancer.
In his first study “Vogelstein, by means of mathematical analyses, estimated the likelihood of spontaneous transformation of normal cells into tumoral cells in a carcinogen-free setting, based on the number of present stem cells and their reproduction rate in the organs”, Prof. Mantovani explains.

Lifestyle and environment are determining factors

“In his latest study, he extended his research to people outside the United States. Science, published it together with a perspective article highlighting weak points and limits of his scientific analysis. Mathematical models are not sufficient, because the natural progress of a tumor is a complex phenomenon. However, they have a great potential that may become useful if improved in the right way.
Prof. Mantovani also notices that this study pays little attention to India. A country where changes in lifestyles are dramatically altering the likelihood of cancer.
“For example, epidemiology tells us that, starting with the second generation, Japanese women who moved to the United States were almost ten times more likely to develop breast cancer. An undeniable fact that suggests lifestyle and environment are a determining factor for tumors”, the professor says.

Prevention and early diagnosis

“Estimates from Vogelstein’s study and the consequent message have to be read critically, avoiding misleading interpretations. We can’t take action on luck, but we can indeed act on other risk factors. We should do anything in our power to defeat cancer: prevention, early diagnoses, researching new diagnostic strategies and therapies”, Prof. Mantovani says.
Our National Health Service guarantees access to early diagnosis tools to everyone. Data show that Italy is doing well, even though there are consistent differences among the different regions that we need to address.
Changes in our lifestyle and environment should add to prevention. We should reduce polluting factors and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Prof. Mantovani suggests his 0-5-30 golden rule. No cigarettes, at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day, and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity per day.

The importance of research

“We can and must do better from a scientific point of view too. By studying and understanding the genetic and environmental risk factors, the molecular mechanisms of cancer development, the way the immune system protects our body and eliminates tumour cells (that now we employ as a new therapeutic weapon). So, cancer is not only a matter of bad luck. Its defeat depends on all these factors, and for this reason it depends on us too”, Professor Alberto Mantovani concludes.