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Lung cancer and the power of suggestion.
February 10, 2013 11:19 AM   Subscribe

"Is it possible that today's high lung cancer rates are in large part due to the power of suggestion?" assertTrue discusses the possibility that cigarette warnings are responsible for increases in lung cancer rates.
posted by zoo (41 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This article looks less than totally sincere and as such is not a great post. -- restless_nomad



 
Who is underwriting this blog, Phillip Morris? Or maybe it is satire?
posted by Renoroc at 11:21 AM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I recognise that this could be a controversial subject for metafilter, but thought it interesting despite that. I'm certainly not trying to minimise the feelings of anyone who has had experience of Lung Cancer. Consider this a pre-apology if I've upset anyone.
posted by zoo at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2013


If you're reading this, you will probably contract death.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


There are no warnings. I looked up and down, nothing but a watermark.
posted by clavdivs at 11:23 AM on February 10, 2013


Maybe it is pollution from traffic. I live i a small market town in england, on a main-ish road, and you should see the black shit I get on my windowsills from the traffic. We are breathing this in all the time in town. I grimace when I see a girl push a kid in a pushchair behind a car bellowing shit out of its exhaust - right into the kids face.
posted by marienbad at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"that today's high lung cancer rates are in large part due to the power of suggestion?"

If it causes more smokers to suspect cancer and seek a medical diagnosis, sure, why shouldn't rates of diagnosis go up?
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Is it possible that today's high lung cancer rates are in large part due to the power of suggestion?"

Um, no?
posted by Artw at 11:26 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it is pollution from traffic.

Did you read it?
posted by pipeski at 11:27 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Bear in mind that because the rate of lung cancer in non-smokers has not gone up, environmental factors affecting all populations equally (smokers and non-smokers) cannot account for any increase in lung cancer rates among smokers. "
But we've also been told that second-hand smoke is dangerous. There's been quite a push about this. So, if it's all in our minds, cancer rates among non-smokers who are AROUND smokers (which, until recently, was everyone) would indeed go up; perhaps not to the same degree, but if the data show no increase among non-smokers, that would seen to be a problem for the author's idea.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:28 AM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder if improvements in other forms of health care have cause people who would otherwise have died of sepsis or heart attacks instead staying healthy long enough to develop cancer. That, or it's an effect similar to autism- people are looking for it more often because they know, as smokers, that they have a greater chance of developing lung cancer. Keep in mind, that this is an increase in the number of diagnoses, not an absolute increase in the number of cases.

I am not saying that either of those is true. But they strike me as more likely than the nocebo effect. The power of positive thinking tends not to cure cancer. Given that, I would think that the power of negative thinking would have trouble causing it.
posted by Hactar at 11:28 AM on February 10, 2013


I stopped reading when I saw him substituting cancer death rates for cancer incidence.
posted by hat_eater at 11:28 AM on February 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


so people die from lung cancer. Most of them have smoked or worked with asbestos or other dangerous environments.
But it's all in the mind..
posted by mumimor at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2013


That's all aside from the fact that if the author's idea is correct, there'd be no such thing as a hypochondriac because they'd all will themselves into whether disease they thought they had...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:31 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've discovered a correlation between the success of the book Freakonomics and people's eagerness to dream up horseshit "counterintuitive" magic-bullet explanations for complex phenomena.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:35 AM on February 10, 2013 [33 favorites]


The author isn't claiming that all illness is psychosomatic. He's claiming that some lung cancer is. His conclusion relies on the premise that illness can be caused by the mind, which is a premise that data actually supports, as embarrassing and counterintuitive as that is. I don't know if his conclusion is true. But I don't think it should be dismissed out of hand, given that there's lots of data we can't explain.
posted by smorange at 11:38 AM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


If this blithering inanity were true, wouldn't we see far higher death rates from cancer in Canada, where they actually show dead people, diseased lungs, and other horrors on the warning label, as opposed to the namby-pamby messaging in the US?
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:39 AM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Victim-blaming achieves yet another new high water mark.
posted by jamjam at 11:41 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's acknowledging placebo effects, and then there's MIND CANCER, which is one step away from a Marvel mutant power.
posted by Artw at 11:41 AM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


That was an interesting read. Thanks. And yes, there's growing evidence that the mind has a significant role to play in health in ways both positive and negative. The article was an order of magnitude more convincing than any of the counter-arguments I've seen so far from the armchair scientists in this thread...
posted by pipeski at 11:42 AM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The mechanism of some psychosomatic conditions is easier to explain than others. Mental state can influence depression, yes, plausible. Mental state can influence things like blood pressure or circulatory system disease, yes, plausible. Lung cancer would be a pretty hard one to explain, it seems to me.

And this is just obviously wrong:
because the rate of lung cancer in non-smokers has not gone up, environmental factors affecting all populations equally (smokers and non-smokers) cannot account for any increase in lung cancer rates among smokers.

We know that smoking makes one more susceptible to damage from, for example, radon.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:42 AM on February 10, 2013


"If it were true, today's lung cancer rates should be much higher than can be accounted for by smoking, compared to years past. Also, we should find that lung cancer rates took off after the announcement of the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on smoking. And we should see that lung cancer rates have decoupled from smoking rates entirely, going up when smoking goes down."

The lag you dismiss? It's just that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:43 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also this guy's post on how to get a blog post to go semi viral, which suggests "pick a controversial thesis".
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


I know there are placebo that have been documented, where people taking a particular medication feel better when told beforehand that the medication is a new trial for a really powerful "cure" and so on. I've even heard of the "nocebo" effect, where reading about the side effects of a drug can sometimes cause people to imagine they have them (not always, of course, or we'd all be suffering from something, given the proliferation of pharmaceutical ads we're exposed to every day).

But the idea that tumors and lung scarring, serious physical consequences, showing up simply because you read about them in a black box warning? That's...pretty hard to swallow.

Most hardcore smokers I've met--and by hardcore I mean people who cannot go even a few hours without a cigarette, the people you see in the designated smoke-filled airport lounges getting their fix after a flight--are in complete denial about what smoking does to your system, anyway. These are the kind of people who will assert, in the midst of a coughing fit, that smoking is, like, really good for their asthma, actually!

Which tends to make me think that, if the power of suggestion was such a powerful force, if anything we should be seeing more immortals walking around among us, like Highlander before the quickening scene. After all, very few us truly believe, when we are young, that our unhealthy habits are going to catch up to us one day...but they do.
posted by misha at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2013


When we're talking about lung cancer, wouldn't rate of incidence and rate of diagnosis be about the same? There can't be many people walking around with undiagnosed lung cancer for long: that'll just result in a post-mortem diagnosis.
posted by tyllwin at 11:52 AM on February 10, 2013


In the past, maybe not. Also, he's playing fast and loose with incidence and death rate so there is a certain asymmetry to his generating bullshit and a reader ferreting it out.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:58 AM on February 10, 2013


If being warned about negative consequences of a particular behavior made those negative consequences occur, then I would have the hairiest palms on earth.
posted by flarbuse at 12:04 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Depression now affects 20.5 million American adults: 14.8 million in the form of major depressive disorder and 5.7 million in the form of bipolar disorder. That's a pretty huge jump in numbers: 38,200 to 20 million. Were there millions of depressed people in hiding, in 1955, waiting to come out of the closet in the 1990s? Was 9.3% of the American adult population (the percentage now suffering depression) merely suffering in silence, back in 1955? Or did the drug companies and their media flacks convert a relatively rare psychological condition into a growth industry through massive advertising and media hype (in other words, through the power of suggestion)?

Just because depression might be over diagnosed now doesn't mean the actual rate of depression has changed.

I don't think it's controversial that suicide is directly coorelated with depression. If there was so little depression in 1955, why was the suicide rate then about the same as it is today? (10.2 per 1000 vs 11 per 1000 today in the US.)
posted by zixyer at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If being warned about negative consequences of a particular behavior made those negative consequences occur, then I would have the hairiest palms on earth.

How's the eyesight?
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


God it's enough the universe gets to dish out disease at random. Now it gets to use our own minds against us so that WE can be the arbiters of our own slow horrific death and destruction?

I'm not saying this world has any intent or purpose, but seriously, reality is so unspeakably cruel. I amnot convinced by this article that this phenomena is true, but if it were I think it would be important to keep in mind that even someone's thoughts brought them into illness it doesn't mean they deserve that illness or even that could realistically stop it with their own thoughts.

I mean, don't think about cats. Stop thinking about cats right now your life depends on it! The mind is complex and I think it's important to remember that many of the stimuli that drive our thoughts do happen beyond our control. Some thoughts literally come to us.

We have a certain capacity for redirection or self generated ideas, but... what is a self actually? Is it REALLY an entity that generates itself outside of the variables of this reality?

My point is, even if more research like this comes out that actually verifies such roles in disease making, have mercy on your fellow beings who might be suffering real illness as a result of such phenomena. It's likely not their faults regardless their "minds" involvement in it.
posted by xarnop at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was saying that pre-emptively since there is already such a push for ill people to think positive and cure themselves with their power of mind!! And then a sort remaining judgement that those who aren't cured must not have willed themselves into health hard enough. I'm not saying we might not have SOME power to influence healing- but I also think this is not some all powerful force where anyone who uses the power of mind will---- you know- experience a just world. A world that unleashes such terrible fates onto clearly innocent people such as infants and children etc is NOT just. There is no reason to think our minds are designed based on "just" principles where if we will ourselves to health therefore the cells will align! The cellular world is brutal. This reality is not driven by justness, fairness, or principles about health that involve all powerful mind over matter power. There are circumstances that are too painful and unhealthy for the human body to endure even with great positive thinking in tact-- and there are circumstances that are so terrible they can overpower even the most positive thinkers mind with misery and despair.

My concerns over anything that might add to people's just world fallacy notions aside, it's still an interesting proposal.
posted by xarnop at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2013


This is so not the best of the web.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:51 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


This person seems to have absolutely no ability to work with epidemiological data, no sense of historicity about this. He's read a couple articles and come up with a theory - this is crankology.
posted by Miko at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


If this blithering inanity were true, wouldn't we see far higher death rates from cancer in Canada, where they actually show dead people, diseased lungs, and other horrors on the warning label, as opposed to the namby-pamby messaging in the US?

Australia has them too.
I thought cancer was a fungus that can be cured by baking soda.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:39 PM on February 10, 2013


In other news, Voodoo stocks are up.
posted by Twang at 2:02 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's read a couple articles and come up with a theory - this is crankology.

Less of a theory, more a hypothesis IMO. One that nobody is going to take seriously without a mountain of research to test it.

But reading a couple of articles or simply letting your mind wander in the bathtub is a perfectly reasonable method of generating hypotheses. There's nothing especially crankish about that, unless you're arguing that your hypothesis is secure knowledge.

I didn't see anything like that anywhere in the piece.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:27 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


* He conflates bipolar disorder with depression.
* He credits pharmaceutical advertisements for increasing public awareness while excluding or downplaying other influences and information sources.
* He asserts that depression has increased as if its a given.
* He's using confinement to mental hospitals from disabling depression in 1955 to indicate the prevalence of the disease.
* He then directly compares that definition of "disability" to the 2004 WHO DALY (disability-adjusted life year) rates as if they mean the same thing.

Good grief, how is he completely ignoring the massive change in the role of mental hospitals in the US...distribution of public funding, oversight/regulation of facilities, best practices for treatment, health insurance coverage. Not to mention the multiple revisions of the clinical definition of depression.

So anyway, THEN, he takes his conclusions about a psychiatric disorder and uses them to form a hypothesis about lung cancer?!

I...I don't even have the energy to start picking apart the logical fallacies in the way he's trying to use cancer research to justify his conclusion of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know we've got a number of epidemiologists here who can do that better than I can anyway.
posted by desuetude at 2:32 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is not science. This is not logic. This is not reason. This is not even wrong. He is making false equivalences, eliding categories, ignoring data, just basically pulling garbage nonsense out of his ass in a silly attempt to be contrarian and controversial.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Boy,as an engineer who has done some research work on exactly the topic of lung cancer incidence, I was always worried that I was making fundamental errors that my co-investigating medical and epidemiological colleagues didn't notice or something. I wish I had this article six months ago, so I could see what ignorance in the subject truly looked like.

For example, Of course, it takes years of smoking to get lung cancer. So you might expect the high 1990 cancer rate to reflect the high 1960 cigaret consumption rate.  Or you may, you know, have ever met a smoker and know that smoking starts in your late teens to very early 20s; nobody takes up smoking on their 40th birthday. And you may do 30 seconds of research to discover that lung cancer incidence really starts in your late 60s and 70s. And if you are capable of third grade math, that turns into a 50 year lag, not the 30 he pulls out of his sitting parts. And if you have a hint of knowledge about history, you may know that Virginia Slims and cigarette marketing to women took off in the late 60s, so we haven't hit the peak incidence rate yet.

On the other hand, I will give him credit for discovering something that causes depression; reading his blog.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:12 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


With "studies" touting the cancer-preventing benefits of some food or nutrient on a weekly basis, why haven't these substances caused an overall reduction in cancer rates due to the placebo effect?
posted by orme at 4:29 PM on February 10, 2013


Worst of the web. The site shouldn't be promoting crank nonsense.
posted by gerryblog at 5:13 PM on February 10, 2013


Seriously, ick. He is playing fast and loose with incidence and death rate, as noted above.

And in the comments the author notes:

Please note that I wasn't trying to "prove a hypothesis" with this post, only trying to provide a starting point for discussion.

Let's not "teach the controversy" here, folks. This is awful and should be deleted.
posted by ~ at 5:24 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


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