[ RadSafe ] What does it mean to say that something causes 16% of cancers?

Cary Renquist cary.renquist at ezag.com
Thu May 10 14:27:52 CDT 2012

Nice short article on cancer statistics...

What does it mean to say that something causes 16% of cancers? | Not
Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine 

The numbers aren't about assigning blame.

For a start, PAFs don't necessarily add up. Many causes of cancer
interact with one another. For example, being very fat and being very
inactive can both increase the risk of cancer, but they are obviously
linked. You can't calculate the PAFs for different causes of cancer, and
bung them all into a nice pie chart, because the slices of the pie will

Cancers are also complex diseases. Individual tumours arise because of a
number of different genetic mutations that build up over the years,
potentially due to different causes. You can't take a single patient and
assign them to a "radiation" or "infection" or "smoking" bucket. Those
16.1% of cancers that are linked to infections may also have other
"causes". Cancer is more like poverty (caused by a number of events
throughout one's life, some inherited and some not) rather than malaria
(caused by a very specific infection delivered via mosquito).

Cary.renquist at ezag.com

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