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Home > Culture and Society

Everything gives you cancer

17 June 2005

This week, a Cancer Research UK survey revealed that one in three British women would be willing to have both breasts removed if they thought they were at high risk of breast cancer. The survey also claimed that the British fear cancer more than any other country in Europe. Even more than we fear Belgium. Hardly surprising really, given our media's insatiable appetite for a good old health scare. Indeed, not five minutes later, another gloomy bunch of boffins announced that excessive consumption of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

Whilst few still imagined that a daily half-cow was the route to a telegram from the Queen, and most of us have built up an immunity to these stories (even the ones about no one being able to build up an immunity to things anymore), there persists a certain gleeful Todenfreude whenever such research is published. A paragraph further on and you find they're talking about people who eat two portions of meat *every* day upping their risk by a mere 35%. Less of a big deal. Almost seems worth it in fact, for all that lovely meat. On some level however, we seem to find the idea of our Shippams Paste and our Iceland Good Choice Chicken Casserole being stuffed with cancer somehow comforting. We relish the fear.

It could of course be argued that '[x] causes cancer' articles might as well not be published at all. The researchers themselves can't be getting much out of it - their findings are mostly misrepresented before vanishing into that article-landfill with 'scientists have warned' in the first paragraph. They occur so frequently in such a standard format that everyone either ignores them, or gets frightened enough to do serious harm to themselves by never eating pies again. Besides, we all know that if we wait long enough, someone else will come forward - maybe from the industry that stands to benefit the most, maybe not - to say that it's all tripe, and that tripe is actually very good for you.

In China meanwhile, the powerful tobacco authorities are breezily indoctrinating the populace as to the health benefits of smoking, which they insist prevents mouth ulcers, reduces the risk of Parkinson's, relieves schizophrenia, boosts brain cells and increases height by up to three feet. You are more likely, they smile, to get lung cancer from the fumes coming off your wok. Well, maybe. Something is going to get you in the end, almost definitely, and as clearly insane as the Chinese fag giants' argument is, the wearying slew of fear-trips in the British media makes some part of you want to embrace their twisted logic and smoke three fags at once, just to show 'em.

None of it matters anyway. Once you have cancer - and you will get it - you're likely to care less about where it came from and more about figuring out how to get better and/or stay positive. In the meantime, sod it: drink white wine, eat red meat, use mobile phones, cherish your breasts and try to put your mortality into some kind of perspective. Otherwise - you will die.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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