In this week's Scrubbing Up, the World Cancer Research Fund's head of communications, Richard Evans, questions what damage media scare stories are doing to the credibility of science. Hardly a week seems to pass without something or other being hailed as the miracle cure or another cause of cancer.
Here are some of the comments you have been sending in to this week's Scrubbing Up.
A friend read an article about food containing cooked tomatoes helping to reduce cancer risk. So she told her (already overweight) daughter that ketchup was good for her, so she could eat as much as she wanted!
Sarah, Apt, France
I am "in revision" as a cancer patient. Most of the articles that I read concerning cancer are the result of data mining, obviously lacking in causal plausibility, and so not the source of undue hope or concern. I found that the problem is not the promise of miracle cures; I tend to see through those. The problem is more hidden causes. For example, do I really need to be at the bottom of the "healthy" interval of body mass index before the chances of a recurrence are significantly reduced? As a result of the treatment, I am thin; I could tend towards anorexia when I read that!
Michael, Braunschweig, Germany
Because of the hype my wife looks on the internet every time she feels a headache or a little unwell and every answer she's had so far is to go see her GP urgently as it could be cancer. Apparently there's nothing else that can be wrong with you.
People would do well to read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. He explains in depth about all the "scare" stories and "miracle" cures appearing every day in newspapers. On the whole its not scientists at fault but the media who are keen on a "Eureka" story that promises longevity with an easy solution. The truth - "Eat a healthy balanced diet and take regular exercise" doesn't sell newspapers. Whereas "Eat superfruit to prevent cancer" sells.
I am a GP and I use the internet daily for my own education and to help patients. It is particularly useful for skin problems. However, there are risks. Given that the web is vast and uncensored and contains information of variable quality and interpretation, I steer patients towards reputable and authoritative sites such as the British Association of Dermatologists where leaflets on skin disease can be downloaded. Cancer research UK is another very good site - there are MANY really good health related sites and this is a good thing. Doctors should welcome the chance to interact with patients, after all if they are mistaken it is part of our job to explain why. However, a 20 minute consultation lasts twice as long as a 10 minute consultation, and this has to be factored in.
I use the media stories primarily in educating both my daughter and my students in the difference between statistical risks and actual evidence of causal effects of eating/doing 'whatever' - there is a paucity of genuine evidence of a causal link between any 'whatever' apart from obviously dangerous things like radioactivity and cancer. The genetic component is also grossly overlooked. So a lot of what is reported IS poor science, even if it's passable medicine.
My daughter at the age of 28 developed breast cancer, since then we have been avoiding many foods and substances, and then being told that it is OK - deodorant, soya, eggs, dairy. It makes life so very very hard, but worse than that we have asked for help, and the GP is mainly ignorant of the true facts as well.
My mother was terminally ill with secondary breast cancer and died recently. When we sat down with the medical people to discuss treatment options, many of which we had heard about from reports in the media, we were told that most of these options either were not available in the UK/NHS or that the treatment was so new that it had not yet been rolled out to the UK/NHS. They said that such reports gave patients and families a false hope of a cure, when it wasn't actually possible (yet). You can imagine how that made us feel.