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Facebook rant about Facebook cancer hoax

23 Feb

[Originally posted on my personal blog in February 2013]

I just posted the following on Facebook, and thought I’d share it here, too – the wider the news that this is a hoax is disseminated, the better for everyone.

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I’ve seen a Facebook post about cancer circulating among various completely separate groups of friends in the last few days. The information in the post claims to be from the Johns Hopkins cancer center, but it is most definitely a hoax. I was actually riled up enough to want to write a point-by-point refutation of the contents of the post, but fortunately Johns Hopkins have already done an absolutely stellar debunking job.

This kind of misinformation makes me SO MAD. It twists the available evidence that a healthy diet can reduce (NOT eliminate) the risk of developing cancer into statements that eating or avoiding very specific foods or groups of foods will prevent cancer. This in turn cultivates a culture of victim blaming, in which someone’s response to hearing that someone they know has been diagnosed is often “well, he/she eats [whatever], so of course they got cancer. I don’t eat that, so I won’t”. In fact, outside of some very strongly correlated exceptions (e.g. smoking as a risk factor for lung cancer, some genetic predispositions), it’s next to impossible to blame any individual’s diagnosis on any one factor – it’s a mix of your genes, your diet, your stress levels, your socioeconomic status, your hormones, your environmental exposure, and plain old luck of the draw.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a book about the causes of cancer, to help the newly diagnosed and their loved ones understand what’s going on. Hoaxes like this serve as a kick in the pants to get myself organised and actually do it.

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End rant. But AAARRRGGGHHH!

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