MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The objective of this cross-sectional survey was to evaluate the beliefs about and attitudes toward cancer prevention of people professing vaccination skepticism or conspiracy theories. Data were collected mainly from a well-known Spanish forum and other platforms, including Reddit (English), 4Chan (English), HispaChan (Spanish), and a Spanish-language website for cancer prevention (mejorsincancer.org) from January to March 2022.

Among 1494 responders, 209 were unvaccinated against covid-19, 112 preferred so-called alternative rather than conventional medicine, and 62 reported flat earth or reptilian beliefs. Cancer beliefs were assessed using the Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) and Cancer Awareness Measure Mythical Causes Scale (CAM-MYCS), both validated tools.

Awareness of the actual causes of cancer was greater (median CAM score 63.6%) than that of mythical causes (41.7%). The most endorsed mythical causes of cancer were:

  • eating food containing additives or sweeteners,
  • feeling stressed,
  • eating genetically modified food.

Awareness of the actual and mythical causes of cancer among the unvaccinated, alternative medicine, and conspiracy groups was lower than among their counterparts. A median of 54.5% of the actual causes was accurately identified among each of the unvaccinated, alternative medicine, and conspiracy groups, and a median of 63.6% was identified in each of the three corresponding counterparts (P=0.13, 0.04, and 0.003, respectively). For mythical causes, medians of 25.0%, 16.7%, and 16.7% were accurately identified in the unvaccinated, alternative medicine, and conspiracy groups, respectively; a median of 41.7% was identified in each of the three corresponding counterparts (P<0.001 in adjusted models for all comparisons).

In total, 673 (45.0%) participants agreed with the statement “It seems like everything causes cancer.” No significant differences were observed among the unvaccinated (44.0%), conspiracist (41.9%), or alternative medicine groups (35.7%), compared with their counterparts (45.2%, 45.7%, and 45.8%, respectively).

The authors’ conclusions were as follows: we evaluated the patterns of beliefs about cancer among people who believed in conspiracies, rejected the covid-19 vaccine, or preferred alternative medicine. We observed that the participants who belonged to these groups were more likely to endorse mythical causes of cancer than were their counterparts but were less likely to endorse the actual causes of cancer. Almost half of the participants, whether
conspiracists or not, agreed with the statement “It seems like everything causes cancer,” which highlights the difficulty that society encounters in differentiating actual causes of cancer from mythical causes owing to mass (veridical or not) information. This suggests a direct connection between digital misinformation and consequent potential erroneous health decisions, which may represent a further preventable fraction of cancer. Cultivating oriented medical education and scientific literacy, improving online ranking algorithms, building trust, and using effective health communication and social marketing campaigns may be possible ways to tackle this complex public health threat.

This is yet another study showing that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) usage is linked to misinformation and conspiratorial thinking in other areas. We have discussed similar findings all too often. They are hardly surprising, in my view. As I have repeatedly been trying to point out:

The best way to prevent harm must therefore be to educate the public responsibly (which, of course, is one of the main aims of this blog.

2 Responses to Misinformation and conspiratorial thinking are at the heart of so-called alternative medicine(SCAM)

  • I have some questions or comments that I may ask later. However, my first question is where is the study data information for those that are covid vaccinated ?
    Are we not to compare the two groups ?

  • Is there a way to subscribe to follow up comments without having to leave a comment please?

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