Inequality in genetic cancer risk suggests bad genes rather than bad luck

Nat Commun. 2017 Oct 27;8(1):1165. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-01284-y.

Abstract

Heritability is often estimated by decomposing the variance of a trait into genetic and other factors. Interpreting such variance decompositions, however, is not straightforward. In particular, there is an ongoing debate on the importance of genetic factors in cancer development, even though heritability estimates exist. Here we show that heritability estimates contain information on the distribution of absolute risk due to genetic differences. The approach relies on the assumptions underlying the conventional heritability of liability model. We also suggest a model unrelated to heritability estimates. By applying these strategies, we describe the distribution of absolute genetic risk for 15 common cancers. We highlight the considerable inequality in genetic risk of cancer using different metrics, e.g., the Gini Index and quantile ratios which are frequently used in economics. For all these cancers, the estimated inequality in genetic risk is larger than the inequality in income in the USA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Diseases in Twins
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic
  • Models, Genetic
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Probability
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Twins, Monozygotic