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Environmental exposures far outweigh the role of heredity in causing cancer according to The New England Journal of Medicine of July 13, 2000 publication of the research of Drs. Lichtenstein et al who studied 44,788 pairs of twins listed in the Swedish, Danish, and Finnish twin registries.

The purpose of the research was to assess the risks of cancer from environmental v. genetic causes.

By studying twins researchers could estimate the role of heredity versus environment in causing cancer.

This highly reliable “matched pair” research method was made possible by detailed records from the Department of Medical Epidemiology, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm; the Institute of Public Health (Epidemiology) and the Danish Twin Registry, University of Southern Denmark, Odense; the Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki; the Department of Public Health and General Practice, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland; the Department of Public Health, University of Turku, Turku, Finland; the Finnish Cancer Registry, Helsinki, Finland; and the Department of Biosciences at Novum, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. This research proves that inherited genetic factors make a very minor contribution to a person’s susceptibility to cancer. The principal cause of cancer is the environment and only in a few cancers is family disposition significant.

The study showed that cancer was found in 10,803 of the 89,576 persons and occurred in 9512 pairs of twins.

The most significant increase in cancer was in the twins of affected persons for stomach, colorectal, lung, breast, and prostate cancer. Genetic factors were statistically significant for prostate cancer, in which 42 percent of the risk is attributable to heredity, for colorectal cancer in which 35 percent may be due to genes and for breast cancer in which 27 percent of the risk can be explained by family history. Children of parents with stomach, colorectal, lung, breast, and prostate cancer should have themselves regularly checked to identify early disease.

Otherwise, heredity plays a very minor role in causing cancer. This research supports and confirms that routine, repeated exposure to toxic chemicals at work, home, and in the general environment should always be avoided as the most significant causes of cancer. Chronic exposures, particularly in the workplace, on a day-to-day basis over a period of years, is the most significant cause of cancer as continuing research shows.

Reprint requests [online only for NEJM subscribers] should be addressed to Dr. Lichtenstein at the Department of Medical Epidemiology, Karolinska Institute, Box 281, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden, or at [email protected] for his article in The New England Journal of Medicine-July 13, 2000 — Vol. 343, No. 2: Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer-Analyses of Cohorts of Twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland by: Paul Lichtenstein, Niels V. Holm, Pia K. Verkasalo, Anastasia Iliadou, Jaakko Kaprio, Markku Koskenvuo, Eero Pukkala, Axel Skytthe, Kari Hemminki.

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