Perception, delusion, misinformation, and consequent behaviors

It is fascinating how misinformation can drive the way we react to health care issues — and just how much misinformation we manage to propagate on a regular basis.

According to the results of a relatively large survey just carried out in the UK — by Cancer Research UK:

  • 35 percent of people in the UK fear cancer more than any other life-threatening condition.
  • Alzheimer’s disease was the next most feared condition (by 25 percent of those surveyed).
  • The three most-feared forms of cancer were brain cancer, colorectal (“bowel”) cancer, and lung cancer.
  • For men, the most feared forms of cancer were brain cancer (16 percent), colorectal cancer (12 percent), lung cancer (10 percent), and prostate cancer (10 percent).
  • The reason people feared brain cancer was that they thought it was the cancer they were most likely to die from (57 per cent) or that it had the worst symptoms (47 per cent).
  • 21 percent of people said they thought breast cancer had the best survival rate and 12 per cent thought testicular cancer.

These perceptions are just strange when one considers the actual facts:

  • Any reasonably well-informed person would probably consider pancreatic cancer to be the type of cancer they should fear the most … by a street. It is relatively common (44,000 new cases a year in the USA). The 5-year survival rate is only about 5 percent! And the quality of that survival is usually miserable.
  • By comparison, the 5-year survival for even the worst type of brain cancer (glioblastoma) is nearer to 10 percent, but the actual risk of getting brain cancers is rather small (about 22,000 brain and other nervous system cancers in the USA each year).
  • Lung cancer is, of course, very common, and the mortality rate is lousy, at around 16 percent for 5-year survival.
  • But breast and prostate cancer  have outstanding 5-year survival rates at 89 and 99 percent, respectively.
  • Even colorectal cancer patients have a relative 5-year survival rate of 65 percent.

And then heart disease is going to “get” more of us each year than all the cancers added together! (A mere 74,500 people die of Alzheimer’s disease each year in the USA compared to > 600,000 people who die of heart conditions.)

Maybe it is the perception that “brain cancers” are so horrible that makes so many of us all fret that cell phone are causing brain cancer.

Why do we have these misconceptions … and what can we do to dispel them?

Alas … we have no idea. Maybe time will help. There can’t be many people left who really still think the world is flat. And that only took about 500 years.

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