Facebook rant about Facebook cancer hoax

I just posted the following on Facebook, and thought I’d share it here, too – the wider the news that this is a hoax is disseminated, the better for everyone.


I’ve seen a Facebook post about cancer circulating among various completely separate groups of friends in the last few days. The information in the post claims to be from the Johns Hopkins cancer center, but it is most definitely a hoax. I was actually riled up enough to want to write a point-by-point refutation of the contents of the post, but fortunately Johns Hopkins have already done an absolutely stellar debunking job.

This kind of misinformation makes me SO MAD. It twists the available evidence that a healthy diet can reduce (NOT eliminate) the risk of developing cancer into statements that eating or avoiding very specific foods or groups of foods will prevent cancer. This in turn cultivates a culture of victim blaming, in which someone’s response to hearing that someone they know has been diagnosed is often “well, he/she eats [whatever], so of course they got cancer. I don’t eat that, so I won’t”. In fact, outside of some very strongly correlated exceptions (e.g. smoking as a risk factor for lung cancer, some genetic predispositions), it’s next to impossible to blame any individual’s diagnosis on any one factor – it’s a mix of your genes, your diet, your stress levels, your socioeconomic status, your hormones, your environmental exposure, and plain old luck of the draw.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a book about the causes of cancer, to help the newly diagnosed and their loved ones understand what’s going on. Hoaxes like this serve as a kick in the pants to get myself organised and actually do it.



About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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5 Responses to Facebook rant about Facebook cancer hoax

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    Good post Cath. From a publishing viewpoint, such a book would have to be very carefully pitched, but an interesting thought.

    On a wider front, every time there’s a scare post on Facebook or someone sends around an email to all their friends warning of something terrible my first port of call is http://www.snopes.com, the urban legend site, which usually debunks it pretty well. If only people looked there first before passing these things on there would be a whole lot of time not wasted.

  2. cromercrox says:

    I’m sure you can get some funding for your book from that leading oncological magazine, the Daily Nimbyist Bungaloid Curtain Twitcher Daily Mail.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks both!

    Brian, I’ve had to post Snopes articles in the comments of Facebook posts on a depressingly frequent basis!

    Regarding the book proposal, I’m currently working my way through this book – I know it’s just one guy’s opinion, but it seems to be a good place to start. My sister’s in the industry and is going to look at my first draft for me and give me pointers. Exciting times!

  4. Nina says:

    I’m so anti-cancer-hoax, that I fear I sometimes think too lightly of real evidence (although I don’t smoke…). My bigger problem is the lack of common sense of some people. If you consume 9 liters of cola a day, it is not going to be pretty. That has nothing to do with the carcinogenic stuff in cola, but with your (genetic?) lack of brain cells.

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