There's been a great deal of coverage of Cancer Research UK's report on 'preventable' cancers. Of the 38% of preventable cancers, 15% are caused by smoking and 6% by obesity. I am a huge fan of CRUK's work, but I have to say that this is not a ground-breaking revelation. It is also not particularly helpful to cancer sufferers who have gone through enough with all the horrors of cancer treatment and certainly don't need to be told that they are in some way culpable for their illness.
The implication that cancer is, in some cases, caused by 'lifestyle factors', is, for a tee-total pescetarian who exercised regularly and never smoked a cigarette, more than a teeny bit annoying.
So, I was interested to interrogate this assertion a little further. On CRUK's website it is stated that "cancer is primarily a disease of older people...on average each year, half of the cases in the UK were diagnosed in people aged 70 and over". We're simply living longer. So, unless older people throw caution to the wind when they hit the big 7-0, and start chain-smoking and over-dosing on pies, their lifestyle is not really an issue.
I also wondered if cancer is a new phenomenon based on our diet, environment and sedentary lifestyle. There are a few things to consider here. The world's oldest documented case of cancer was reported in ancient Egypt in 1500 BC. I suspect that the ancient Egyptians did not lounge around on comfy sofas doing nothing (in fact, they had only low level wooden stools) but were largely pretty hands-on working as bakers, soldiers and farmers. Could this really be a cancer-causing lifestyle?
Another mystery is why animals get cancer. Now, I've seen some particularly fat cats and waddling dogs, but is their 'lifestyle' really causing cancer? Well, no, of course not. Scientists have known for more than 150 years that sharks get cancer and they're not snacking on junk food, but anything from molluscs to seals. And they can suffer from melanoma. An opportunity for shark sunglasses perhaps?
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, cancer accounts for 10% of animal deaths and even threatens some species with extinction such as Tasmanian devils. Viruses are also responsible for cancer in turtles, dolphins and porpoises. If only they could smoke less and swim a little faster, their outlook might be better.
OK. This is largely tongue-in-cheek. And, of course, it's important for everyone to live the best and healthiest life they can. That's a message we can all agree on. But for those of us who have, or have had cancer, it's not new and it's certainly not your fault. But as for this giraffe...