Lies, damned lies and then there is statistics

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Will you live forever? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but statistically you have a 100 percent chance of dying. Yes, forget about “health” medications, statistics will prove it. Did you know, for example, that everyone dies within six months of their birthdays? They do, either before or after (do the math). Did you know that 95 percent of all the people who died in Pattaya last year wore shoes? The statistics would then have you believe that shoes were the greatest killer of mankind (not sure where that puts flip-flops).

A couple of years ago, the Cancer Council of Australia produced a sober warning message (at this time of year anyway), “Quit drinking to cut cancer risk.” The Cancer Council went on further to proclaim, “New evidence reveals the extent of alcohol’s contribution to cancer.”

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Now, having been photographed with the odd glass of wine in my hand on more than one occasion, I was immediately interested. Should I go on the wagon tomorrow? (“Today” was being a bit soon, I thought.)

I continued reading, “Cancer Council Australia has revised dramatically upwards its estimate of alcohol’s contribution to new cancer cases and issued its strongest warning yet that people worried by any link should avoid drinking altogether.”

It appeared that the cancers involved were bowel and breast and the figures indicated that these were nearly two-thirds of all alcohol-related cancers, overtaking those of the mouth, throat and esophagus.

More chilling news was that the Convener of the Public Health Association of Australia’s alcohol expert group, said he would write to the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, to request it mandate health warnings on bottles. (It may be of interest to you that in Thailand there is an anti-alcohol group as well as the anti-smoking lobby).

Now there are many individuals predicting the end of the world, as well as Scandinavian teenagers, so how great a threat was this really? The group media release went on, “New evidence implicating alcohol in the development of bowel and breast cancer meant drinking probably caused about 5.6 percent of cancers in Australia. This was nearly double the 3.1 percent figure it nominated in its last assessment, in 2008.”

Using their own figures we are looking at 94.4 percent were not caused by alcohol.

So now we are getting to the nitty-gritty of all this. If we accept that they have managed to “prove” (beyond reasonable doubt) that alcohol does indeed “cause” 5.6 percent of cancers, what does this mean? Since breast and bowel cancers are only two thirds of the alcohol-related cancers (their mathematics, not mine), this means that together they make up 3.7 percent of the cancers in Australia. Let’s split the figure and make it 1.85 percent each. I remain somewhat underwhelmed, I am afraid. These figures can be read to suggest that 98.15 percent of breast cancers are not related to alcohol ingestion, and similarly the figures for bowel cancer.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not advocating we all get smashed every night, and indeed I do not think we should drink alcohol every day. However there are greater risks from alcohol intake than breast or bowel cancer. Liver damage for starters.

So if you are a person who likes a drink or three and would like to check your liver function we do have a GI and Liver Center that would be happy to check for you. Telephone 1719 for an appointment.