If you had a definitive list of everything that definitely caused cancer - would it do you any good?

The reason I ask is that there is such a list. It's here: monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Clas...

Unfortunately its not a very easy to understand document for the layperson.

So the real question, I suppose, is how should people like us (Behind the Headlines and Sense About Science) interpret this usefully for people?

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  • Eek! I smell a mine field!

    Let me look at this another way:

    What use it the Encyclopaedia Britannica to anyone?

    As whole, it is of no use whatsoever. It is too vast, too heavy, too intricate - and this is despite the fact that it is written with the layperson in mind. It does make a good doorstop and as a kid I found encyclopaedias made great steps so I could reach more interesting books. But as a complete work it is useless.

    However, break it up into small bits, then those small parts are immensely useful - in other words, as a whole it is too much, but it is a fantastic repository for all the little bits we need from time to time.

    Your list is the same. As a list it is pretty useless, but each list item may be very useful as an individual fact.

    So, no, we do not need to interpret the entire document, but we may need to use bits of the information in order to explain something else.

    Put it another way - you could list the entire physical structure of the human body in one, very valuable reference book (oh look, someone already did), but there is a very good reason why Gray's Anatomy has been described as the most boring book in the world by students attempting to read it cover to cover.

  • Thanks for the warning @JossS.

    I was thinking of approaching it through the notion that if you believe what you read in the papers, almost everything causes cancer. See this askance look at the Mail's coverage for details: anorak.co.uk/288298/scare-s...

    Do you think a simplified/categorised explanation would be a helpful reference to counter? For example, as I see it the carcinogens fall largely into industrial, environmental and lifestyle categories. Would having it broken down in that way - with avoidance advice be a useful resource?

  • Yes, but I think you still need to avoid the risk of the list and your point about categorising is important.

    I think people who actually have cancer tend to start their search by looking for "lung cancer" or "testicular cancer" - whatever applies directly to them.

    So, to make this work and useful, you need a resource that answers those questions directly and specifically.

    When it comes to the more curious searches - people looking for causes more generally or looking up because of what they do or what they think they are exposed to - then it needs to be treated the other way up. They dont know what cancer they might get.

    At the moment you are looking at this from the point of view of various lists. If you look at this from the point of view of a relational database, then you can have a lot more fun and make it more precise and less scary.

    So, you can create a database where you list a carcinogen, where it is encountered, what cancer this is associated with, who is most vulnerable by job, age, gender, location .... and so on.

    These are related through different tables allowing both one to many and many to many relationships.

    Once you have that sort of database, it is a question of creating searches to answer specific questions. So you could search by job, or location, or cancer type (group or specific), by carcinogen or by a mixture of any of those.

    You would not have this as wild searches that would confuse most users, but create the searches your self so that you list information in certain ways for browsing, and then allow some specific searches to allow people to drill down or filter the data. It is important, however, that the results are presented in a non-medical, but clear and accurate way. So, bit of nice copywriting to smooth the edges!

    If that sounds frighteningly complicated, well it isn't that bad - if you think about it, most online ecommerce packages have far more complicated table structures than that. Actually, this website does too.

    I think, however, it would pay dividends if there was some research about what people search for when it comes to cancer (and other conditions) and trying to break that down by group; people who have cancer, people who wish to prevent cancer for themselves, people who are reacting to media story.

    The results of such research would allow you to construct an information resource that is actually useful as it would be reacting directly to the way people look for this specific kind of information and so increasing the chance people would find it. That kind of research would also help you more generally with what you are trying to achieve with Behind the Headlines.

    I don't know how much research has been done like that recently, but perhaps some University would like to take up the challenge. Maybe some in the Voice of Young Science would be interested.

    Does that help or have I left you spinning? Sorry.....

  • My mother used to say, "anything causes cancer in excess". I don't think she was far off the truth there. If you try to avoid everything on the list you would not be living much of a life. I say let a dog be a dog and do what it enjoys, life is too short not to enjoy it.

  • Is this a list of things that definitely cause cancer? No, not really.

    It's a list of things that, with increased exposure result in an increased risk of developing cancer.

    Items on the list increase your risk of developing cancer to a greater or lesser extent. Some are strongly linked, others have a casual causal relationship.

    For example, according to the list ethanol in alcoholic beverages is in Group 1 which means it is carcinogenic to humans. This doesn't mean that if you drink bear you get cancer, just that the more beer you drink the more chance of getting cancer you have. Also "Occupation exposure" as a painter is carcinogenic according to the list, but this doesn't mean that if you're a painter you're going to get cancer. Just that painters as a group have an increased risk of cancer.

    What we need to do is educate the lay person so they understand what the term "increased risk" actually means and how to put it into context in their everyday lives. Once the populous understand this concept they can make more informed choices and balance the risks themselves.

    So, how do we interpret the list to make it? Well, we tell people that there are lots of things that are linked to an increased incidence of cancer. We tell them that there are some things to avoid, some things to take in moderation, and others that aren't worth worrying about.

  • Do you no good what so ever as we all have cancer sells our bodies fight on daily basis

    But as a lung diease suffer i put down to asbestos its all very intresting macanics of diease.

    Its just a shame i had to suffer grim illness to be intrested.

    Most peope with cancer die of sepsis and shock .. but youdont read much about that.

    As one of my conditions is chronic lung sepsis as it use to be call sepsis as been a intrest.

    What i have found out from reading lots of scholar articals is sepsis hates vitamin C and inflammation mechanics also i have found B5 stops cells going roug and keeps them in check and promotes good cell health.

    Also vitamin B12 is very good at helping fight gastric reflux destroying your lung tissue and helps fight against Co2 retension

    Am great beliver in if we talk about stuff know mater how grim we can all make diffrence

    Cheers great post :)

  • My concerns would be chlorinated water and paracetamol. Fortunately I'm not a medic so don't have the responsibility to interpret this list and can remain ignorant of the implications!

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