Recently it seems like barely a day goes by without something else being added to the list of things that can potentially cause cancer. Last week there was uproar as we were warned that our beloved bacon could even be fatal. Over summer we were warned that sunscreen could cause cancer (yes, the very sunscreen we use to protect against the cancer caused by the sun). A few years ago we were even warned that sitting inside with a fire burning could cause cancer. Is nothing safe? I’m even beginning to look suspiciously at the laptop I’m writing this on. You wouldn’t betray me would you?
In all seriousness cancer is, of course, a horrible disease. It is devastating for its sufferers and for their loved ones and the sooner a cure is developed the better. But don’t these constant warnings about things that could potentially cause cancer desensitise us? If we are being bombarded with warnings about something which may have once caused cancer in one person (even if there was probably another cause) then isn’t there a risk that we may pay less attention when we are told about something which genuinely has a high chance of causing cancer?
"But don’t these constant warnings about things that could potentially cause cancer desensitise us?"
Obviously there’s always going to be a small number of people who will panic with every new thing that is added to the list. They will stop drinking sugary drinks. They won’t use contraception (yes, the World Health Organisation added the pill to the list a few years ago). And they’ll put down the paint brushes (don’t even ask). It is in situations like this where the media should be more careful when reporting health issues. The World Health Organisation is a scientific institution that publishes all its data and research when it adds something new to the cancer causing list, therefore putting it into context.
The media (yes I’m looking at you Daily Mail), isn’t fond of publishing data or research though. They just put out a massive headline about how going outside could give you cancer (yep, you read that right, damned air pollution), leading to people panicking even when the WHO has actually designated it a low risk.
The majority of people will, of course, laugh about the warning and thinking, I’ll take the risk, and carry on with their lives. The only problem here is that they’ll do this with every warning until eventually, the WHO adds something to the list which is genuine object of concern. The Daily Mail et al will publish the warning like any other warning and the people who normally ignore the warning will also ignore that one, leading to a public health emergency.
So perhaps it is time for the media to take responsibility for the cancer scares they publish and then we can all go back to laughing about the low risk warnings, but actually change the way we act when a high risk activity or item is added to the list.
"Perhaps it is time for the media to take responsibility for the cancer scares they publish"
I hope you enjoyed this article, as far as I’m aware reading Courier articles hasn’t yet been added to the WHO list. Probably.