4 February 2021

Alternative realities that can kill

The Back Page

How much nonsense do your patients believe about cancer?


If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything at all, it’s that no matter what the weight of scientific evidence, if there’s a barking moonbat bonkers reality being offered as an alternative, then a solid percentage of folks are going to opt for the latter.

Yes, we are talking about you, Pete Evans.

But it’s not just the coronavirus that feeds the misinformation beast that we call social media; the pervasive existential threat of cancer is a worthy competitor.

And since it’s World Cancer Day today, Australia’s Cancer Council has taken the opportunity to address some of the common misbeliefs surrounding the disease and encourage the general public to err on the side of credible sources for their medical information.      

To find out what the commonest of the alternative realities were, the council undertook a survey of 1000 Australians, and the results were suitably eyebrow raising.

Can animals sniff out cancers? Apparently yes, according to 67% of respondents.

What about alternative therapies for curing cancer? Do those work? Disappointingly, four in 10 Aussies reckon that to be the case.

And nearly half of the respondents subscribe to the idea that suncreen contains chemicals that are bad for you.

“People affected by cancer are particularly vulnerable and we know that misinformation in cancer is rife,” Megan Varlow, Director of Cancer Control Policy and Cancer Council Australia, explained in the accompanying media release.

“This is in part due to people looking to sell products or miracle cures but also due to misinformation filtering into the public sphere through unchecked sources like social media and the internet.”

There’s a serious undercurrent to these findings, and it goes to the matter of trust.

One of the most misleading myths of modern medicine is that conventional cancer doctors reject “natural” therapies in favour of artificial or “unnatural” cancer treatments, Ms Varlow said.

This has contributed to the popularity of unproven, alternative cancer treatments and the rise of companies touting “natural alternatives” as safer than the conventional medicine, despite all those complicated and boring clinical trials.

Chillingly, the council’s survey also found Australians were as equally likely to have changed their behaviour based on something they read online (21.3%) as they were because of government information (22%). And fully 12% of our fellow citizens believe news they read on social media or articles on the internet are the most trustworthy sources of health information.

Remember: TMR is the internet’s only trustworthy source of medical news.

If you see something stupid, say something stupid … send herbal remedies to felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au.