How often do you hear that one or another thing causes cancer? Do you check that information online, do you ask your doctor or you simply nod and believe that everything that is bad for your health causes cancer? Scientists from UCL and the University of Leeds discovered that belief in fake causes of cancer is rife.
What we believe is very important because we shape our lifestyles accordingly. But scientists surveyed 1,330 people in England and found that 43 % of them think that stress causes cancer. Another 42 % wrongly thought that food additives are a cause of cancer. Which is misleading, because food additives is a very large umbrella term. Then 35 % believed that electromagnetic frequencies could cause cancer and another 34 % though that eating GM products is also a risk factor. But that is not over yet – 19 % think that microwave ovens cause cancer and even 15 % answered that drinking from plastic bottles could do that as well. As you might imagine, none of these things have scientific basis.
Interestingly, people did not stop doing these things just because they believe that they cause cancer. However, those who understood well what can and cannot cause cancer were less likely to smoke. It is almost like those, who believe in fake causes of cancer see so many of them that they stop caring for themselves. Meanwhile, more educated people tend to take care of themselves, isolating the biggest factors that cause cancer.
Most of these fake beliefs spread from one person to another and it is difficult if not impossible to find the original source. A myth repeated a thousand times becomes a fact and eventually finds its way to the internet. Dr Lion Shahab, one of the authors of the study, said: “People’s beliefs are so important because they have an impact on the lifestyle choices they make. Those with better awareness of proven causes of cancer were more likely not to smoke and to eat more fruit and vegetables”. Scientists say that it looks like the number of people endorsing unproven causes of cancer is growing.
So what do we take from these results? Well, first of all, people should stop believing everything they’ve been told. Rumours are just rumours if there are no proven cases. Water bottles probably do not cause cancer because we have no scientific results showing that they do. Secondly, public education should improve to increase awareness of the causes of cancer. 4 out of 10 cancer cases can be traced back to lifestyle choices, which means that they could be prevented. First and foremost, people should not smoke, watch their weight and avoid excess UV exposure.