Although I am actively involved in the ongoing pursuit of the genetic determinants of cancer risk along with my colleagues, I daily feel that my time and effort to improve public health would be better spent in an elementary school classroom with a clear and simple message on tobacco use, sun protection, physical activity, and energy balance. In my opinion, we should be cautious in communicating our expectations of genetics to explain disease risk and its ultimate public health impact. We should be globally diligent in engaging national leaders to continue to direct resource and policy change to community leaders, planners, and educators to deliver broadly acting societal support for healthy lifestyles and choices; a strategy derived from the tobacco control policies with proven value (13, 14).
Wrote Patricia Thompson in 2007 in her honest and candid article on why hunting down bits and pieces of our genetics is not really going to do much to cure cancer.
But did anyone listen? I don't know.
Its easier to believe that eventually someone will come up with a magic test to pre-detect cancer 10 years before it occurs. It will probably be sold along with a magic pill which will silence all our (still to be found) cancer-causing defective genes. Oh right, and let's not forget about the super-crazy-awesomeness of aspirin and Vitamin D. You can forestall all the cancers in the world or maybe even prevent them completely. Who cares about the eminent aspirin induced holes in your stomach and intestines and the insoluble Vitamin D deposits in your kidneys.
Doesn't that sound awesome?
Optimism is well and good but there is now enough body of evidence that it might be misplaced. Sometimes, we just need to wake up and look at ourselves, the crappy eating habits, lack of personal involvement in food preparation, the impossibility of calorie-control and portion-sizing while eating out, smoking and drinking, physical inactivity, incessant harmful energy imbalance along with a heavier reliance on animal-based protein, reliance on pre-processed everything and the deep underlying lack of motivation and sometimes, resistance against any kind of behaviour change.
We want hard, incontrovertible, randomized-control-trial-level replicable proof that our absolutely awful habits are causing damage. We will keep pointing at that one old woman who chain-smoked for 90+ years and didn't end up with lung cancer to defend our habits. We will keep hoping that we will be that one old woman and not the zillion others who did end up getting sick. Heck, after a million papers have linked the tiniest amount of alcohol to all disease imaginable and pointed out its role as a powerful carcinogen, we still get on the high road about moderation and grasp at the red-wine-is-good-for-cardiovascular-health farce while wilfully discarding the cold fact that fresh fruit sources bring as many benefits, if not more. We also cite helplessness, bring out our social crutches, blame our environments and even blame the government and the scientific establishment for the odious habits we choose to hang on to and the food that we choose to eat everyday. In other words, we are in denial.
And that's the message that the establishment of cancer research wants to publish in clear unambiguous, simple terms. A pity it doesn't quite get round to it because someone just found yet another string of small gene variants that could possibly have a 0.000000000000000000000001% effect on cancer risk in a group of 10 people belonging to some esoteric ethnic group that lives deep in the suburbs of Detroit in a subgroup analyses of a study on 10, 000 people.