Why do some people who do everything right get cancer and others who smoke, live in polluted areas, eat junk food and expose themselves to just about every known carcinogen never suffer from cancer?

It turns out that cancer is not just caused by environment but also by genetics. Recent research has focused on the P53 gene, something which it seems elephants have a lot of. Elephants rarely get cancer and in researching this, researchers discovered that elephants have a lot of the p53 gene. In humans taller people have a greater risk of cancer. Obviously in one of the largest land mammals this does not seem to be the case.

Cells divide and during each division mutations can and do occur. Sometimes these mutations or changes in the genetic material lead to cancer. So it follows that the more cells dividing, the greater the risk. Except of course in elephants.

Why? The p53 gene cleans up, if you will, the mess caused by repeated mutations of the genes. So with fewer mutations comes a smaller risk of cancer.

Some of us are born with more p53 genes and will thus less likely to develop cancer during our lifetimes. You might ask, why not just manufacture that gene, find a way to put it in to our cells and thus finally for the first time in human history be rid of cancer?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In the first place p53 gene has been shown to cause premature aging. Guess what? Who wants to look 50 at age 30? More importantly, aging is a big risk factor for the number one cause of death in this country: heart disease. So you might avoid the big C, only to drop dead from a heart attack.

Also, putting the gene into cells is not so easy and comes with its own set of risks.

Bottom line: p53 gene is exciting but is not ready for prime time yet.