Alarmist public health campaign…

If I was an uninformed and gullible fool, I would now be kicking my GP’s door down, convinced I have colon cancer!

You can’t possibly have missed the intensive advertising campaign – it’s everywhere, on TV, radio, in the press, doubtless online somewhere and also coming through my letterbox! And I’m tired of it.

The logic – and I use the word very loosely – of the campaign is that if you’ve had the slightest loosness for a week or 3, you stand a good chance of having bowel cancer, which is as misleading as it is egregious. Bowel cancer is just one possibility – there are others.

And yes, I do know it’s very serious, but I don’t think attempting to scare the bejesus out of people is appropriate, especially as the message is repeated so bloody often it loses its impact and simply becomes an annoyance. Have they never heard of the boy who cried wolf?

And so to me. I’ve had quite enthusiastic diarrhoea for about a week. I know why, and I know what triggered it. I also know how to fix it and it does not involve major surgery or wasting my GP’s time.

I have IBS. As with many other people with ME/CFS, it’s part of the package, and has been since the mid eighties. The drugs don’t work – I’ve long since exhausted the entire IBS pharmacopoeia – but I know what does and I’ve used it successfully since 1988.

The answer is live yoghurt – in industrial quantities – up to 2 kilos a day initially, in 500g doses (for several months – I wound up knitting my own), to get my intestinal flora back on track. It needs such a large intake for enough of the bacterial load to survive the digestive process and so be beneficial. Don’t bother with probiotics – I’m convinced any benefits that apparently derive from them are nothing but our old friend the Placebo Effect (which is not to be sniffed at, it’s very powerful and very real, as many drug trials have demonstrated). I mean, seriously, do you think a couple of tablespoons of liquid will survive the digestive process – being dunked in a maelstrom of hydrochloric acid? It’d have as much chance as a snowball in a furnace.

There’s always a trigger, though, and this time I know what it was. Dumping cocoa into a bowl of porridge about ten days ago kicked it off, and an ill-advised mug of drinking chocolate last week kicked everything up a gear into bicycle-clip territory.**

So I’m now in my second day of yoghurt therapy (500g twice a day), and well on the way back to normality, without any need for having a camera shoved where cameras don’t normally go.

Clearly, chocolate is my current trigger, so best avoided, not too hard as I normally never touch the stuff – I just bought some cocoa and drinking chocolate because I fancied a change. I got one too!

So go away, NHS, and leave me alone, I’ve had it with your ill-conceived propaganda (but I’d really love to know the proportion of negative to positive results from this campaign – it has the potential to be a massive waste of resources). And as stress can trigger or exacerbate IBS, this campaign may well not be helping, for many people.

Cancer, by the way, seems to be the bogeyman du jour – another TV campaign, aimed at those who like to unwind with a drink after work – me for most of my working life, along with many millions of others. The claim is that doing so, apart from all the other ways you can die horribly, doubles your risk of oropharyngeal cancer. A meaningless threat without knowing what the risk is for anyone who doesn’t drink.

**It’s an old joke:- Doctor: Tell me, when did you realise you had diarrhoea? Patient: When I took my bike clips off . . .


2 thoughts on “Alarmist public health campaign…

  1. Ron, whilst I see where you are coming from, I have to disagree with your generalised reaction. In a different life, before Sarcoidosis, arthritis,heart disease and so on I worked in nursing, in Germany, we found that 90% of terminal cancer patients ignored symptoms until it was far too late. I think that anything that will encourage people to be aware of the early signs of cancer has to be good. This champaign does get on my nerves, and the advertising agency that formulated it should be sacked on the spot, but if it gives some people enough of a wake up call to get them to have symptoms checked out, then it has done its job!
    My wife,a typical German, refuses to go for a routine smear test because she is afraid that it will show that she has cancer, because her mum died of multiple cancers at the same age as she is now. No amount of explaining and moaning at her will get her to see, the sooner she goes the sooner she will have the all clear, or the easier it would be to treat. I guess all of these ad campaigns are addressed at people with much less understanding of medical matter than you or I….. my advice is to simply not watch TV, I find it tends to raise my BP, and that’s just the adverts! Give me an old episode of Magic Roundabout any day!
    Take care Ron, and let’s hope the spring weather lets us feel a bit younger again for a week or two.

    • I take your point, Peter, and it might have initially have raised awareness – though I suspect it sparked an equal amount of needless fear, and probably triggered a few suicides – it’s not exactly unknown for people to kill themselves out of fear of cancer. But now, trotting it out every sodding ad break on some channels (even got it on the taxi driver’s radio the other day), will just have people tuning it out or getting, like me, pissed off with it.

      For the most part though, loose bowels are indicative of bugger all and not really a great marker – a change of diet could cause it, a dodgy takeaway, a bad pint, or any one of a number of equally innocuous things (having been constipated all my life, I aspire to looseness 😉 ). Blood in the stool is a more definite marker, but who, other than middle-class Americans, routinely inspects their crap? Most people I know wouldn’t even contemplate it.

      I understand the need to raise awareness, but what we have now is counterproductive overkill. Anyone going to be scared into seeing their GP probably already has.

      Mind you, writing this, I suppose I can understand the repetition – most people are abysmally ignorant about how their bodies work, and Brits are notoriously closed off about, not to put too fine a point on it, shit, as if it had been malignly forced upon them by some outside agency! I well remember the time a friend brought a rather upmarket new girlfriend on a Welsh backpacking weekend. Big mistake – she was horrified to be handed a toilet roll and a trowel first thing in the morning, and instructed on lifting the sod, digging a hole, burying it, and putting the sod back afterwards, and equally mortified when she realised that packs and mountains, in summer temperatures, equaled sweat, in quantity. After that she was never seen again.

      I can understand where your wife’s coming from, though, and fear doesn’t generally respond well to argument or logic – if it did I’d have no problem with spiders! – “If I don’t know it’s there it can’t harm me” is a remarkably common sentiment in many cultures, even though it has a conspicuously abysmal success rate.

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