The number of people who mistakenly believe certain fake causes of cancer is at a high level, according to new research jointly funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
For the study, published in the European Journal of Cancer, researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of Leeds in the UK surveyed 1,330 people in England and found that over 40% wrongly believed that stress (43%) and food additives (42%) were causes of cancer.
A third incorrectly believed that electromagnetic frequencies (35%) and eating GM food (34%) were risk factors, while 19% thought microwave ovens and 15% said drinking from plastic bottles were causes of cancer, despite no solid scientific evidence.
Having the belief in the fake causes of cancer did not influence a person’s lifestyle habits negatively.
Understanding the better-known causes
For the proven causes of cancer, 88% of people correctly selected smoking, 80% chose passive smoking and 60% said sunburn. Those who had better knowledge of proven causes of cancer were more likely not to smoke.
Dr Samuel Smith from the University of Leeds said: “It’s worrying to see so many people endorse risk factors for which there is no convincing evidence.
“Compared to past research it appears the number of people believing in unproven causes of cancer has increased since the start of the century which could be a result of changes to how we access news and information through the internet and social media.
“It’s vital to improve public education about the causes of cancer if we want to help people make informed decisions about their lives and ensure they aren’t worrying unnecessarily.”
Having the right information
“Around four in 10 cancer cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes, so it’s crucial we have the right information to help us separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Clare Hyde from CRUK.
“There is no guarantee against getting cancer but by knowing the biggest risk factors we can stack the odds in our favour to help reduce our individual risk of the disease, rather than wasting time worrying about fake news.”
Dr Lion Shahab from UCL, concluded: “People’s beliefs are so important because they have an impact on the lifestyle choices they make. Those with better awareness of proven causes of cancer were more likely not to smoke and to eat more fruit and vegetables.”