The Cancer Fallacy


I just finished reading Mortality by Christopher Hitchens. In the book, he talks about people who would come up to him and start talking about their own “cancer” experience, or that of someone they know. This brought me around to one of my pet peeves, that should really be a formal fallacy. Using the word “cancer” as if it’s a single disease with a single cure is a great indicator that the person speaking is either lying or ignorant.

Currently, there are over 200 types of cancer that are know to affect humans. Most of these types have specific causes, as well as specific treatments. We’re able to treat some incredibly well, while other kinds are almost certainly deadly.

Now, that said, every day I see a new product being marketed as “preventing cancer.” This is dishonest. It only means that it doesn’t directly cause  a known type of cancer. Eating X food doesn’t prevent a smoker from getting throat cancer or anything of the sort. Every day, I also see sensationalist reporting of X causing cancer. Yes, X may cause cancer, but so does the sun, our primary light source. I don’t see people protesting that.

The best thing to do is to consult an actual doctor about your risk factors for different types of cancer, and take steps to reduce those risks. Anything using “cancer” in advertising is typically a marketing scheme designed to take your money by utilizing your fear.

Do your homework. Speak with medical professionals. Don’t fall for the Cancer Fallacy.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

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