Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Don't do that, It'll kill you

It's Halloween, so we could all do with a good scare. Step forward the World Cancer Research Fund with a new survey to chill the blood. You already knew that smoking could give you cancer; it now turns out that eating and drinking can as well.

Prof Tim Key, an epidemiologist at Cancer Research UK who is presenting the survey's findings at a conference in London tomorrow, said: “Already the majority of people don’t smoke and for them obesity maybe the most important identified cause of cancer.”

But it isn't just the obese, or even the overweight, who have to worry. Even small amounts of red meat or processed food put you at increased risk of a slow lingering death, the doctors warn. So will even the merest sip of alcohol.

The researchers found "convincing" evidence that body fat could cause six different types of common cancers, including those of the breast, bowel and pancreas. Even people of a healthy weight should avoid putting on any pounds at all after the age of 21, they proclaim.

Sir Michael Marmot, who chaired the expert panel, said. "This might sound difficult, but this is what the science is telling us more clearly than ever before. The fact is that putting on weight can increase your cancer risk, even if you are still within the healthy range."

So even if you're healthy, you're not healthy.

As for alcohol, you have to take your chances. If you don't drink, you reduce the risk of cancer. But then again you reduce the chances of heart disease. So I suppose you first have to work out what you want to die of.

"Small changes can have a big effect on our cancer risk and everyone needs to take action, individuals as well as government. " said Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK's. People needed to "make the healthy choice the easy choice in all aspects of our lives" she declared, and called for action to "defuse the obesity timebomb while we still can". She added, ominously, "We have been disappointed with the government's response to the problem of obesity."

If doctors are the new priesthood, and health the new religion, then cancer is the new Hell. Once upon a time the Church tried to control people's pleasures by threatening them with hellfire and damnation. Now anything the authorities disapprove of will give you the big C. And the list of sins is eerily familiar:

Sloth: Lack of exercise linked to obesity. Obesity will give you cancer.

Gluttony: Obesity will give you cancer. Alcohol will give you cancer. Eating meat will give you cancer.

Lust: The sexually-transmitted papilloma virus causes cervical cancer.

Pride: Working on your suntan is a primary cause of skin cancer, of course.

Avarice: Want a nice new mobile phone? Sure it won't give you cancer?

Envy: The "envious" personality type: somewhat introverted, apt to brood, prone to depression, has been linked in some studies to the development of certain types of cancer. At least in rats.

In fact, of the seven traditional sins, the only one that hasn't been linked to cancer seems to be anger. Quite the reverse: it's those who don't express their anger who might be at risk. So you can get as angry as you like without fear of the consequences. That's something, I suppose.