Friday, 7 June 2013

Today’s cancer headlines – keeping it all in perspective

The alarming headline ‘Half of UK population “will get cancer in lifetime”’ has made a press release from Macmillan Cancer Support into a major news story today.

Not surprisingly the charity is using it as an opportunity to argue that ‘the NHS will not be able to cope with the huge increase in demand for cancer services’ and that we therefore need more investment in  ‘proper after-care’ and in ‘engaging cancer patients on their own health’.

Many people reading these reports may be anxious about their own future health but the reality is that whilst people are more likely to get cancer in the future they are also less likely to die from it.

 In 1992, the proportion of people in the UK who got cancer during their life was 32%. This increased to 44% in 2010 and is expected to level off at around 47% between 2020 and 2030.

But this needs to be balanced against changes in survival prospects. In 1992, 45,000 people, or 21% of those who had cancer, did not die from the disease. This increased to 35% in 2010 and is expected to rise to 38% in 2020.

So in simple terms your chances are 50/50 of getting cancer in 2020 but your chance of dying from it is only six in ten.

Overall the chance of dying from cancer will remain only slightly higher than it is now – about one in three.

The growth in the number of people getting cancer is explained by the fact that people are living longer, because as the population ages the incidence of cancer rises.

Macmillan puts the increased survival rates from cancer down to a greater focus on early diagnosis, advances in cancer treatments and better cancer care.

In the UK, more than one in three people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Every year, around 309,500 people are diagnosed with the disease.

But experts estimate that more than four in 10 cancer cases could actually be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as: not smoking, keeping a healthy body weight, cutting back on alcohol, eating a healthy, balanced diet, keeping active, avoiding certain infections (like HPV), staying safe in the sun and avoiding certain occupational risks (see chemicals in the workplace).

Cancer, of course, is not just one disease but over 200 different conditions with a variety of levels of severity and outcome – and the outlook in any given cancer depends on its type, location and stage.

And if you avoid cancer then the likelihood is that you will die instead of heart disease, respiratory disease or stroke.

For Christians there are several big take home messages.

First is to appreciate that cancer is very common, so don’t be surprised if it happens to you or your loved ones. Rather prepare for it.

Second is to remember that your body is a gift from God and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) so treat it with respect. You may, in so doing, lessen your chance of getting certain cancers.

Third is to accept that, unless Christ returns first, you are going to die of something so live your life with that in mind. As a surgeon I was continually surprised to meet patients who seemed to be under the illusion that it was never going to happen to them, or at least not yet.

Fourth is to keep it all in an eternal perspective.

The Bible says that all people ‘are destined to die once and after that to face judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27) and then to end up in one of two destinations for all eternity (Revelation 20:11-15). That is something that wonderfully focusses the mind about priorities on earth!

But the very next verse puts it all in perspective because it tells us the wonderful news that ‘Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many’ and that ‘he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him’ (Hebrews 9:27).

So are you waiting for him?

Medicine is limited. All it really can offer is a few more years of better quality.

The important thing to realise is that this life is only a shadow of what is to come, and that what follows this life is infinitely more important.

So don’t be scared of cancer. If it happens it happens. Instead grasp the fact that there is actually something far worse than cancer.

As Jesus said’ ‘I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.’ (Luke 12:5)

If you are not a Christian and that scares you, then you are not far from the Kingdom of God.

If so, then maybe it’s time to do something about it.


  1. Wouldn't Christians welcome cancer as a means to be called home to god sooner rather than later?

    1. Christians long to be called home - better by far - but also recognise their responsibility to play their part in this world for all the days God by his grace grants them.

    2. Yet another contradiction within Christianity.

      Can I do a Samson and consummate a murder-suicide pact with god?

    3. Nonsense. Samson sought to take vengeance on the Philistines and was willing to give his life in the process. He didn't kill himself but asked God to take him.

    4. It's still a suicide. Congrats, Peter, you just attempted to justify suicide bombing.

    5. No there a number of key differences.

    6. How so? In both cases, the perpetrator saw their actions as justified, for the greater good, and commanded by their deity.

      Why didn't you simply provide these key differences at the outset?

    7. Samson was on a mission from God and was acting as God's instrument of judgement. He was a soldier and national leader (judge) who had already been involved in a number of battles. The Philistines, who had chained him like an animal although he was a prisoner of war, thoroughly deserved what they got. His own death was collateral damage and not suicide. It was an act of courage and not cowardice.

    8. How do you know he was truly on a mission from god? Do you have any extra-biblical sources?

      I personally don't care whether it led to collateral damage or not. It was still suicide (because he took actions that ended his life). You've just given succor to terrorist suicide bombers, Peter. For shame.

    9. How do I know? Because it is written Winston.

      Re suicide there is a moral difference between intending to kill oneself and foreseeing that an action with another aim altogether might also result in ones own death.

    10. Because it's written. And why do you trust the bible? It's historically and scientifically inaccurate in many places. It's internally contradictory. And it even describes itself as untrustworthy.

      1 Kings 22:23
      Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.

      2 Chronicles 18:22
      Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

      Jeremiah 4:10
      Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.

      Jeremiah 20:7
      O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.

      Ezekiel 14:9
      And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.

      2 Thessalonians 2:11
      For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.

    11. Winston you are absolutely priceless. Do you actually understand the context of any of these Scriptures or have you just cut and pasted them from a website which you have uncritically assumed is authoritative?

  2. What is your basis for this assessment, Peter? Any reasonable person would conclude that anyone who lies through others is more of a coward than someone who lies directly.

    Also, why reject the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita? If god is not the author of confusion, as your bible claims, then those verses would not exist or be unequivocally explained (within the bible, not through the weasel words of apologists).

    1. You need to read these verses in their context. God is sovereign over all, even the Devil himself, but he stands behind evil in a very different way to the way he stands behind good. Sometimes he leads rebellious people to believe a lie.

      The Qur'an, Bhagavad Gita and Bible make mutually exclusive truth claims. Clearly therefore they cannot be equally true.

    2. A thousand thanks for the reply, Peter. I was about to think you were going to shirk your duty under 1 Peter 3:15.

      I understand your defense perfectly. "It's not a sin if god does it." Therefore, he rules by fiat and his authority as just as worthy of respect as Kim Jong Un's (i.e. not at all).

      The bible contradicts itself in numerous places. The most reasonable conclusion is that all religions are man-made and bogus.

      Of course I have better things to do than hover over this thread. I only take brief glances every day or two.

  3. And once again we have the last refuge of the apologist. Back away quietly without having explained anything and hope your audience won't notice.

    1. I suspect Winston that you are the only reader still visiting this thread. Haven't you anything better to do?

    2. Actually Peter, no one responded to Winston because he likes to quote the bible out of context all too often. But he forgets certain pieces of scripture like Proverbs 26:4 which tells us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.”

  4. "Second is to remember that your body is a gift from God and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) so treat it with respect. You may, in so doing, lessen your chance of getting certain cancers."
    As a Christian, I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer 3 years ago which was great shock to me at the time as I had never smoked a cigarette in my life - even when I wasn't a Christian (and I've been a Christian for 36 years which is most of my life.) I don't drink either... naturally I would really love to know what in world caused this. I've an excellent BMI and am very fit and healthy in other ways which I am thankful for . I try to be patient with well-meaning people who tell me that I haven't been eating enough broccoli/asparagus/ fruit etc... I love all of these. To be honest I do get a little angry with Christians who make comments like... "You have to accept what God gives you." God gives no one cancer, no more than He gave Job all those horrible things that befell him - and I've had a horrendous list of things that have befallen me in the last few years, apart from the Bladder C. thing (death in my family etc.) - and I've had to listen to many 'Job's comforters' in the process. Still, I love the Lord and am His servant for the rest of my life here, whatever it consists of. He has enabled me to be a witness for Him in cancer support centres and in hospital settings. One thing I have encountered which horrified me was the fact that some ladies from a certain ethnic background were ostracized by their own 'Christian' community and treated like lepers since they've been diagnosed with cancer. (Until now cancer has been seen as a 'western disease' which makes me think that there are definitely environmental issues, especially with regard to Bladder Cancer.) I'd like to be a support and a friend to them (not in a patronizing way) as I really feel they need it - although there are language and cultural differences to be overcome. Please pray for me.


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