Do you ever listen to people talking about cancer and cancer treatments and think, "Oh my gosh, where did they hear that from?" Some of the so-called facts, truths, and expert knowledge about cancer are just so much nonsense. The amount of misinformation around is scary. The general public often doesn't know where to go for factual information, so the whispers of untruths continue.
The Cancer Council of Australia has recognized this and set up a Website called iHeard (possibly appealing to generation "i"). It aims to answer all of the nagging questions people have about cancer and its treatment. The idea is that any member of the public can submit a question, and a knowledgeable cancer health professional will answer.
The answers link to evidence-based information and clearly but gently inform readers that what they've heard simply isn't true or is not based in fact. The Cancer Council is not even afraid to say that the question posed has no answer or that more research on a particular issue is needed. The Website even gives links to the original sources of the misinformation, and having looked at a few, I can say that the scare tactics and false hope they seem to offer are truly frightening.
Some of the questions that have been submitted on the iHeard Website include:
- Someone told me that bicarb soda is a great treatment for any cancer. If this is such a simple, cheap, and effective way to treat cancer, why doesn't everyone use it?
- I've been told that bladder cancer is incredibly hard to treat. Are there any cures that are known to work?
- I've heard that browned foods (baked, cooked, or fried) contain a protein that causes cancer. Is there a safe consumption level for this protein, or is it like cigarettes and alcohol where even one dose raises the risk of cancer?
These questions indicate that the general public is crying out for actual truths about cancer and treatments. It's something to be considered when talking with our patients and their families.
Many times I have had discussions that started with "I heard..." or "My neighbor had chemo and all these horrible things happened to her..." or "I read somewhere that..." Between the media's stories about new cures or causes of cancers and the snake oil merchants selling "natural therapies" and bottles of H3O to treat cancer, I'm not surprised that people are confused.
I've consulted iHeard to help me when I talk to communities and nurses about cancer. I run a lot of educational sessions and always begin with what people know, or think they know, about cancer. People are happy to find a way to anonymously ask the "stupid" questions that they've always been dying to ask.