The ability to examine cancer at the genetic level is generating tremendous volumes of new data that are both expanding and complicating our understanding of cancer. New cancer studies are identifying an increasing number of specific cancer risk factors; but in most cases we do not yet understand how those risk factors eventually develop into certain types of cancer or why some people develop cancer but others do not when risk factors are present.
To understand the complexities involved, consider these examples:
• A study of nearly 145,000 post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 found that height was a greater indicator of cancer risk than obesity, which is now known to increase the risk of multiple cancers. Researchers suspect that the growth hormones that influence height may also play a role in the cell division processes associated with cancer tumor development.
• Another study of more than 2,000 men found that truck drivers were four times more likely than most other men to develop an aggressive form of prostate cancer. Because another study revealed a similar risk among operators of heavy machinery, researchers suspect that exposure to constant vibration may be the common trigger.
The ability to process and mine vast volumes of data is revealing many new commonalities within cancer populations that point to potential risk factors. It is hoped that risk factor identification will lead to better cancer prevent techniques and greater use of advanced targeted cancer therapies. The growing number of individual cancer risk factors also points to the importance of individualized immunotherapy in tailoring cancer treatment to an individual’s specific needs.