Cancer, the Blind Leading the Blind
An advance copy of an article in the September 1st issue of Cancer was just released detailing the results of a survey that explored some of the cancer “myths” that many people naively believe in. "A substantial proportion of people have some inaccurate beliefs about cancer risk," said lead researcher Kevin Stein, the director of the Behavioral Research Center at the American Cancer Society.
Let’s explore some of those “inaccurate beliefs.”
According to the survey, about two-thirds (67.7 percent) of people said the risk of dying from cancer was increasing -- even though statistics show that the five-year cancer survival rate has been steadily improving for the last 30 years.
I find this particularly fascinating since they use two entirely unrelated statistics to negate each other. The question was if people believed the risk of dying from cancer was increasing – not whether people were living longer after diagnosis? And the answer to the question that was actually asked is that absolutely the risk is increasing. In the last hundred years it’s up some 1700%. Even when you adjust for more people and an aging population, it’s still up over 800%. While it is true that over the last ten years deaths from cancer have declined 2.7%, it still means that you’re looking at close to an 800% increase. And it should be noted that virtually all of the improvement in the last ten years is the result of people smoking less and not using hormone replacement therapy. It has nothing to do with better care.
And as for the argument that the five-year survival rate is improving, that needs to be adjusted for the fact that people are being screened far more often so that cancer is being identified far earlier in its development. That means that even if there were no actual improvement in survival, you would still show a statistical improvement since you would now be tracking from an earlier stage of the disease. In other words, statistically people would seem to be living longer even if they were not actually doing so.
Almost 39 percent agreed with the myth that living in a polluted city puts a person at a higher risk of developing lung cancer than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day would.
Actually, it may not be so much of a myth. Studies have shown that exposure to general air pollution will increase your risk to the levels found in people continually exposed to secondhand smoke – not an insignificant cancer risk by itself. But more recent studies have shown that the closer you live to heavily trafficked roads, the greater your risk. For those living next to major traffic areas in polluted cites the risk rapidly increases.
In addition, almost 30 percent of the respondents thought electronic devices, such a cell phones, can cause cancer (studies have shown there is no effect).
There are actually a number of studies that indicate that they are correct – that cell phones actually pose a high degree of risk. And as for the studies that disprove it, they are frequently flawed such as the big Danish study published last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that the mainstream media pounced on. Flaws include:
- Defining people who made one phone call a week as cell phone users.
- Using data from 1982 when cell phone calls were very expensive and people kept calls very short – not like today where people live on their cell phones.
- The study specifically excluded commercial users of cell phone, the people who actually use cell phones the most.
Overall, the Danish study failed to refute the alarming findings of lab experiments that appear to link cell phones to cancer by showing that human blood cells exposed to cell phone radiation suffered genetic damage, damage cancer experts consider to be a diagnostic marker of ''high risk'' for developing tumors.
You get the idea. The more one looks at the survey, the more one is forced to conclude that the “inaccurate beliefs” may not be held by the people responding to the survey – but, rather, by the people conducting it.