Monday, 13 November 2017

My version of Cancer Research UKs lung cancer time line of events

On one of Cancer Research UK's (CRUK) blogs you can find a chart that shows lung cancer rates
compared to smoking prevalence over the last few decades for the UK and on the face of it it is very convincing. But there is, I would suggest, more to it than meets the eye. The chart from the blog is shown next (top) along with a similar chart that I have produced for comparison (bottom).

What seems less convincing is that female lung cancer seems to be rising when male lung cancer is falling, which according to the top chart is because "Smoking rates in women were rising until 1970 then fell more slowly than smoking in men". I would say that smoking rates among women were stable and level between 1950 and 1973 and then fell largely in parallel with men.

But what I find unfathomable is why the lung cancer statistics only start in 1970 why not go back further like on the chart below? CRUK are using lung cancer incidence rather than lung cancer deaths which I think is perfectly reasonable apart from the limitation of only starting at 1970 but death rates are available to the public on the IARC database here  and they go back to 1950. If the theoretical correlation between cigarettes and lung cancer is so strong why not show all the available data? This
seems to a case of "hide the rise" rather than "hide the decline".

What seems convincing about the top chart is that male lung cancer incidence (1970 - today) seems to be falling as a result of "Cancer-smoking link first demonstrated". The problem is that although these events probably did cause a fall in cigarette consumption (eventually), it also implies that this in turn led to a fall in lung cancer. But this can not possibly be true because we know that the lung cancer rates would fall anyway as they did in former soviet countries where cigarette consumption remains strong and stable to this day.

Here is a chart showing level cigarette consumption in the former soviet union.

Clearly the 'smoking causes lung cancer' narrative has failed to properly penetrate Russia.

If we now turn to lung cancer rates in the USSR/FSU we can see that they fall in line with western countries. We can see in Russia (population 143 million) and  Ukraine (44 million) compared with the US (324 million).

If we now add male UK lung cancer rates to the above chart if anything we see an excess of
UK male deaths during the period that saw a fall in cigarette consumption compared with other countries. It's worth noting that that it is not as implausible as it might seem that people stopping smoking during this period could have increased lung cancer deaths in males. This is because people would have been inhaling radiation from atomic weapons testing fallout at the time and we know from experiments on dogs that smoking can protect against lung cancer caused in this way.  I doubt that it is true, on this evidence alone, but it is interesting and worth a mention.

The CRUK chart misses out the following important date 1956.  In 1956 the Medical Research Council submitted a report, at the request of the UK government, to the UK government where it stated that nuclear fallout from atomic weapons testing "could" "in theory" cause lung cancer in "some people". But did not give an estimate as to how many people would get lung cancer and therefore be killed by the testing carried out by the British government and other states in the interests of conducting the cold war and achieving energy security.

The chair of the report was Sir Harold Himsworth the then head of the Medical Research Council (MRC). I have no doubt that it would have been made clear to Himsworth the importance of the atomic weapons program if he did not already know this. As he once made it clear to one Richard Doll when Doll was thinking of publishing a paper linking nuclear fallout with leukaemia and stating that 'there is no threshold [radiation] dose below which no effect is produced' in humans.
 ‘Look, I think this is so speculative, I wouldn’t publish this if I were you, it will only damage your reputation as a scientist.’ - Sir Harold Himsworth to Richard Doll.

It was Doll who is credited with linking smoking with lung cancer and therefore relevant to the "Cancer-smoking link first demonstrated" alluded in the CRUK chart. But I would guess that Himsworth had bigger fish to fry because he had to find a way to green light UK atmospheric testing and , presumably, reassure the public that testing would not cause a global lung cancer epidemic. See chart left.

The thing about the Soviets is that they did not need to get elected and did not care whether the public was concerned about weapons testing because they could always ship people off to a labour camp if they complained. If lawyers wanted to bring a class action against the government for causing millions of lung cancer deaths world wide then the lawyers could be shipped off to a labour camp too (an idea not without merit).

Contrast this with the UK where the government just simply gave money to local authorities to persuade everyone that smoking caused the pre 1950 lung cancer rise. And the public clearly was convinced by this 'causal' link - a link proven by independent scientists, working for the UK government funded Medical Research Council , headed Harold Himsworth, Dolls boss, because they, the British public did slowly start to stop smoking (this is in contrast to Russians who carried on smoking for decades longer).

Himsworths report also pointed out that there is more radiation in rain

227. "The radioactive fall-out is cleared, sooner or later, from the air by deposition. Rain contains the bulk of deposited activity and continuing measurements have been made since 1951 of the radioactivity of rain water collected from specially treated roofs. Any radioactive dust deposited on the roofs in spells of dry weather is washed off and included with the next sample of rainwater. From these measurements the amount of radioactivity deposited per square mile can be determined for each explosion." - Medical Research Council report to UK government 1956
In a letter from Himsworth to the Tobacco Manufactures' Standing Committee dated 1957, he pointed
out that "the contribution of radioactivity from cigarette was smoking was negligible compared with the amounts breathed from the atmosphere".

I have yet to find this study by Dr W Anderson that Himsworth refers to, which is a shame because it could make interesting reading.

So I have created my own time line of events for the UK lung cancer epidemic and here it is with
the CRUK version for comparison

Rather good I think.

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