As a ‘woman of a certain age’ I’ve just started experiencing the dreaded hot flushes. Not pleasant, but not as bad as the lack of sleep that goes with it. Desperate for a remedy, I headed off to my GP who suggested hormone replacement therapy.
I was taken aback. Isn’t that bad for you? Haven’t studies shown that it increases the risk of developing breast cancer? Apparently not, but I, like many others, had bought into the ‘myth’ that had been created by the reporting of a single study.
The US Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) estrogen-progestin trial in 2002 was terminated early, citing increases in breast cancer and heart attacks.
In a 2017 Canadian Medical Journal article Robert Langer, a principal investigator in the study, said the subsequent press release favoured “fear and sensationalism over science,” overstating the breast cancer risk in a bid to court “maximum publicity.”
He said the study results were not statistically significant for breast cancer harm or for heart attacks. The damage was done however, and a generation of women has avoided HRT due to these reported risks.
We are now seeing the same thing with immunisation.
While the anti-vaccination movement is believed to have started in France in the late 1700s, a more recent rise of the movement came about in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, published a Lancet study associating the MMR vaccine with autism. The study was subsequently deemed fraudulent and retracted on the basis of scientific misconduct.
The problem with myths is that they stick around for a long time. So how do we debunk them? When it comes to health myths we have to put our trust in the health professionals around us – our doctors, nurses and wellchild providers.
That’s not to say we should have blind faith – there’s nothing stopping us getting a second opinion – but we need to get it from a reputable source. Too many of us – myself included – reach out to ‘Dr Google’ for medical advice, which is okay as long as you don’t take the results as gospel.
Your family GP or other trusted health professional should always be your first port of call for medical advice, but if you really want to consult your keyboard first, the New Zealand website Health Navigator is endorsed by the Royal New Zealand College of GPs and offers reliable and trustworthy health information and self-care resources.
The NZ Herald also reprinted this article from the Washington Post Why you should be wary of using ‘Dr Google’ which offers a few strategies for increasing the odds of finding unbiased and helpful health information on the internet.