Curing cancerphobia: How the psychology of fear distorts our view of cancer (David Ropeik, 11/29/23, Big Think)

Fighting the entrenched misbelief that “everything causes cancer” is hard. The highly respected Cancer Research UK tried, calling the study factually incorrect and misleading, as well as directly addressing the psychological factors of control and less fear of what is natural than what is human-made, saying, “It can be tempting to worry about our cancer risk from external things like pollution and chemicals more than from things we can control, like our lifestyles. But decades of research have shown that lifestyle factors — such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, getting enough exercise, and avoiding sunburn — have an important effect on cancer risk. In contrast, the evidence that pollution and industrialization has a widespread role in UK cancer rates is weak.”

The belief that cancer is mostly caused by human-made substances explains why any mention of the word “chemicals” or “radiation” sets off alarms. (Magnetic resonance imaging was originally called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging. The “nuclear” was dropped to avoid the frightening allusion to weapons and radiation.) And it explains why scientists frustrated by “chemophobia” and “radiophobia,” corollaries of cancerphobia, try to reduce those fears by arguing, “All of nature is made out of chemicals,” and, “If we’re worried about nuclear power we should also worry about natural sources of radiation like the sun and bananas.”