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Social media blamed for spread of cancer myths

This was a headline reported in The Times and was allegedly based on research carried out into what people in the UK believe causes cancer.  The most common misconception was that cancer can be caused by stress, eating foods heavily laden with additives caused the disease and that people who had been exposed to electromagnetic frequencies were at higher risk of getting cancer.

The survey also showed that those people who took part did recognise proven causes of cancer such as smoking, sunburn and drinking too much alcohol.

The NHS have been quick to oppose the argument that social media is linked to the publics belief in these urban myths.  They say that this study only looked at attitudes at one point in time, we don't know if cancer myths actually are on the rise. And secondly, even if it were proven that they are, the study didn't assess people's exposure to social media.

However, you certainly shouldn't believe everything you read on social media about health. For evidence-based information head to the NHS Choices cancer pages. You can also find the latest (credible) cancer news on Cancer Research UK's news page.

Why are we so scared?

Cancer is a frightening disease.  We are bombarded every day with news in the press, on the television and on billboards about how devastating the impacts of this disease are, how it effects so many of us and our families.  In fact a lot of us live in fear of the disease and want to know, naturally, how to avoid it at all costs.

Many of us have been directly affected by the disease.  I have lost three family members to this and two very close friends, both of whom (if I am honest) I think could have survived if (i) their lifestyle had been a little healthier but also (ii) if the primary medical care they had received had been more proactive in terms of diagnosis.

So, I am very interested in the statistics and how people feel about this disease, what they do consciously or otherwise to limit their chances of suffering.

The results are in!

Awareness of the actual causes of cancer (53% correct responses; 95% confidence interval [CI] 51 to 53), was greater than awareness of mythical cancer causes (36% accurately identified; 95% CI 34 to 37).

Smoking and passive smoking were the most recognised actual causes of cancer, whereas only 30% of people knew about HPV (95% CI 28 to 33) or low fruit and vegetable consumption (95% CI 27 to 32).

The most commonly endorsed myths about cancer causes were exposure to stress (43%; 95% CI 40 to 45), food additives (42%; 95% CI 39 to 44) and electromagnetic frequencies (35%; 95% CI 33 to 38).

Greater awareness of actual and mythical cancer causes was independently associated with lower age, higher socioeconomic status, being white and having post-16 qualifications.

People who were aware of a greater number of actual causes of cancer than myths did not smoke, and ate sufficient fruit and vegetables.

These results have been analysed by the NHS and I genuinely believe that they will be used to inform the public with properly targeted awareness campaigns.

BUT……… 

Is that enough?

I am not a hater of the NHS just because I am a clinical negligence lawyer and just because I am constantly alert to medical mistakes.  I have also had (and know clients who have had) positive experiences within the system.

The fact remains that our NHS is understaffed particularly at the primary levels and specialist care levels and this means that there is a lack of continuity in patients being able to see the same GP regularly or at all.  This often leads to mistakes being made, referrals not being made quickly enough and then when the referrals are made there is a lengthy waiting list or referrals are not made on urgent cancer care pathways when they should have been.

This causes delay and delay can cause damage or death!

Take the case of Mrs X who had pain in her pelvic area for a number of weeks, some bleeding and some pain when having intercourse.  She felt “fobbed off” by her GP surgery.  She was constantly told that “at her age” she may well have intermittent bleeding, she may well have some pain due to her irregular periods.  What the GP constantly missed was that Mrs X was post menopausal and therefore the symptoms that she was experiencing could point to a female cancer.

Mrs X always saw a different GP.  She pestered for the same GP to see her but this was not possible at her large surgery which comprised of a number of different surgeries at different locations.

Mrs X did have cancer and there had been a delay.  She is currently waiting to see whether that delay has made a difference to her long term prognosis!

This is an all too common story and whilst I do believe that our health system has our best interests at its’ core I also think that it is hamstrung by politics and lack of funding.  That is why I also believe in what I do!

Advising, assisting and representing patients who have been the victims of medical mistakes is important.  Our team at Swain & Co are passionate, dedicated and highly skilled.  We want to listen to your story and help you get the answers and the financial compensation that you deserve.

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