Comment »Posted on Monday 25 May 2009 at 2:30 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine

A recent survey suggests that the UK public doesn’t trust scientists to tell them what causes or cures cancer. A YouGov poll of 2,400 people on behalf of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found more than half thought scientists constantly changed their minds about cancer. Over a quarter also said that advice was constantly changing, and the best approach was to ignore it.

Is it any wonder that the public feel this way? Since starting Just A Theory I have written about many media reported cures or causes of cancer: oral sex, shampoo, Facebook, cannabis, beer and the Large Hadron Collider. These are just the few stories that I’ve actually picked up on. With so much conflicting media advice, how is anyone meant to make informed decisions? Most of the causes/cures barely change your absolute risk of cancer anyway, so perhaps ignore all advice completely really is the best option.

Not so, say the WCRF. Their advice has stayed the same for over a decade: eat balanced diet, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. All fairly bog-standard, boring advice, but the WCRF say that around a third of the most common cancers could be avoided by following it. Richard Evans, head of communications for WCRF, explains:

“It is a cause for concern if people are not listening to cancer prevention advice because they have the impression that scientists are always changing their minds.

“The fact is that WCRF and other cancer charities agree on the best ways of reducing cancer risk and this advice has stayed broadly the same for quite a long time.

“A decade ago, we were recommending that people eat a plant-based diet, be physically active and maintain a healthy weight and this is still the case today.”

Yet, the Daily Mail continues its ongoing mission to divide all the inanimate objects in the world into those that cause or cure cancer, and other newspapers do the same. If media advice on cancer is leading people to ignore the WCRF recommendations and thus leaving them more susceptible to cancer, maybe you could argue that actually the media “causes” cancer. Hmm.

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