Cancer: the real causes remain poorly identified by the population

After twenty years of pedagogy and World Cancer Days, one could only hope for the best. But the fact is: the population as a whole is quite bad at determining the true causes of this disease. And that lack of insight particularly affects conspiracy theorists, a study published last December in the British Medical Journal by Spanish researchers suggests.

“Initially, it was just a fancy scientific article that you traditionally see in the Christmas edition of a British magazine. But ultimately, this work points to a very serious problem, ”comments Sebastian Dieguez, a neuroscientist, conspiracy theorist and author of the book. essay by Croyver on why faith is not what you believe.

Between January and March 2022, Spanish researchers conducted a series of surveys on several online discussion platforms. Thus, they collected numerous data on the behavior and health of the participants (preference for traditional or alternative medicine, attitudes towards Covid-19 vaccination, tobacco or alcohol consumption, weight, etc.) as well as their beliefs. vis the causes of cancer or certain hypotheses advocated by the conspirators, such as a flat earth or the existence of reptiles.

Cross-analysis of this information yields some encouraging results. For example, real causes of cancer (smoking, drinking alcohol or red meat, sunburn, advanced age, being overweight, family history, etc.) are generally better identified than unproven factors such as drinking from plastic bottles. , use a microwave oven, live near high voltage lines, or be exposed to 5G waves.

“The study confirms that smoking is considered a cause of cancer in society at large. It is very rare to find people who deny this, ”says Sebastian Dieguez. But upon closer examination, our general knowledge about the causes of this scourge seems incomplete or even, to put it mildly, false. Some causes, such as inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables, are known only to a small part of the population.

More worryingly, the majority of those surveyed believe that GMOs or 5G waves could be the cause of cancer. While fewer citizens point to alcohol as a possible cause. And among those who reject this hypothesis, no matter how correct it may be, we find, in particular … lovers of alcoholic beverages.

The authors of the article summarize this paradox: “The people in question do not really feel the danger. For example, we observed an inverse relationship between age and the belief that age over 70 is a risk factor for cancer. , passive smoking and alcohol consumption.

No, not everything causes cancer.

Finally, scientists observe significant differences in knowledge depending on people’s beliefs. In general, people who say they are unvaccinated, conspiratorial, and prefer alternative medicine are less likely to be able to identify recognized causes of cancer. They also believe that some of the mythical causes are real.

“It’s not really surprising,” says Sebastian Dieguez. “From the moment a person claims to hold certain hypotheses, such as the flat earth hypothesis, we already know that, statistically, they will hold a whole bunch of “other conspiracy theories.” is not only going to question astronomy or geology. She will also tend to ignore biology, medicine and a whole bunch of other disciplines.”

Such behavior may be associated with a special psychological profile that tends to systematically challenge the words “elites who hide something from us”, whether they are politicians, scientists or journalists, the specialist reminds. This means that followers of a flat earth or other wacky theories… don’t necessarily believe in them, and that their posture sometimes means more than the idea they advocate.

“However, in this context, it is not surprising that people who are fascinated by alternative medicine or the anti-vaccine movement are relatively ignorant of the real causes of cancer,” says Sebastian Dieguez.

What impact do these groups have on the rest of society? The question must be asked. Because, according to the study, almost half of the participants, conspiratorial or not, agree with the statement that “Everything seems to cause cancer.” According to the Spanish researchers, “this highlights the difficulty that society faces in differentiating the real causes of cancer from the mythical ones due to the massive dissemination of information, whether it is true or not. It also suggests a direct link between digital misinformation and potentially misguided medical decisions.” As a consequence, a number of cancers could no doubt be avoided.

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