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SMH | Cancer patients in denial over poor lifestyle choices

Julie Robotham

August 22, 2011 –>

“Collective denial”

CANCER patients are in collective denial, attributing to stress, genetics or other factors beyond their control diseases more likely to be triggered by lifestyle choices such as obesity or smoking, the first Australian study into the question has found.

Smoking was mentioned less than half as often as stress among possible causes, even though there is little evidence linking psychological stress with cancer.

The Cancer Council NSW surveyed nearly 3000 people in the state, all of whom had received a cancer diagnosis at some time within the previous 18 months.

It was possible people might be using the term stress as a catch-all for other factors more directly related to cancer, said the study leader, Freddy Sitas.

”Everyone has stress in their life,” he said. ”It’s what happens after stress that’s the important thing. If you get divorced, you might not eat as well afterwards, start having a bit more to drink.”

Smoking was mentioned by only 6 per cent of people, and poor diet by 5 per cent, while lack of exercise was nominated by fewer than 2 per cent of the respondents – in contrast with Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis which suggests lifestyle factors account for 33 per cent of cancer cases.

Associate Professor Sitas said epidemiological research suggested smoking was responsible for at least 70 per cent of lung cancer and one in five of all cancers. Although its role was poorly acknowledged across the entire group of cancer patients, smoking was cited by 40 per cent of the 109 lung cancer patients who mentioned any possible cause for their disease.

Overall, lung cancer patients were more likely to express a belief that their cancer had at least one specific cause, with about three-quarters detailing possible factors versus about half of people with other forms of cancer. Associate Professor Sitas, whose study is published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control, said this might be because, ”the message out there [about tobacco] is so pervasive,” that lung cancer patients were obliged to accept the link.

Among the 59 per cent of breast cancer patients who attributed their disease to any cause, a quarter nominated stress while another quarter mentioned genetics, reproductive history, age, or other factors they could not change. Fewer than 20 per cent suggested diet, exercise, alcohol or other lifestyle choices might have influenced their cancer.

The score was similar for bowel cancer, and even more pronounced among men with prostate cancer, nearly half of whom blamed genetics, age or other things they could not change.

A really interesting article from today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I haven’t read the new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report that is referenced in this article but it is really interesting how our ‘traditional’ Adventist messages about nutrition, exercise, sunlight, temperance, alcohol, rest, trust in divine power (NEWSTART) are consistently reinforced by research.