Some late-life cancers may be due to defects that occur in early development, suggests a mathematical model of mutation patterns in tissues.
Many cancers, such as those of the skin and colon, arise in tissues that are constantly replenished with cells throughout life. But the crucial mutations that lead to the disease are most likely to have occurred during the tissues’ formative period, when cells are dividing exponentially.
Steven Frank of the University of California, Irvine, and Martin Nowak of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, devised a model to track the number of defects spawned by mutations at different stages of tissue development (Nature, Vol. 422, No. 6931, p. 494, 03 April 2003). They calculate that the cancer risk from an early mutation may be 100% greater than that from a mutation that occurs during the replenishment phase.
This suggests that keeping babies shielded from the sun could indeed be a wise preventative measure against later skin cancer.
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