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Cancer may not be purely about genetics, new University of Alberta research review suggests

The University of Alberta. (CTV News Edmonton) The University of Alberta. (CTV News Edmonton)

New research from the University of Alberta suggests cancer may be more preventable than previously thought.

The findings suggest heritable cancers account for only five to 10 per cent of all cancers, while the remaining 90 to 95 per cent are caused by external factors called exposomes or metabolomes.

Exposomes are environmental factors, while metabolomes represent metabolic criteria that researchers say operate together in a feedback loop influencing how cancer can spread.

"Things we eat, things that we breathe, things that are all a part of your life or lifestyle, those are what we call the exposome," said David Wishart, U of A biological sciences professor.

Wishart's research review, a joint project with the department of computing science, examined datasets to show researchers need to adopt a more holistic view of cancer, in order to better treat and prevent it.

"Cancer is a complicated disease," he said. "This perspective kind of tells us that cancer is really simple."

The new perspective on cancer helps show that it is not simply inherited or inevitable, Wishart said.

"There are things you can do," Wishart said, like limiting smoking, making adjustments to diet and exposure to air pollution and UV light.

"There are excellent therapies that are very effective at treating cancer," he added. "But, I think we are also as a scientific community realizing that there are other treatments that can be used as either as an adjunct or in some cases very effectively to treat cancer that maybe aren't so devastating."

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