Fun causes cancer

By | 13 July, 2009

Concentrated cancer in a tube?

The major story that’s doing the diabetes news circuit at the minute is the cheerful report that suggests that everyone’s favourite long-acting insulin lantus can cause cancer. Thrill seekers can check out Google news if you want the very latest.

Being an avid lantus user (40 units a day at 7.30pm fact fans!) I had a look into these claims – after all I don’t have an overwhelming urge to be sent to an early grave by cancer. I’d much rather diabetes complications did that instead.

So I had a look through the various news reports available online. Interestingly enough – and just as an aside – most of the reports referred to two other studies which compared and I quote “similar databases in Scotland and the UK”. Since 1707 Scotland has been part of the UK, so this sentence is complete nonsense. But why do I bring this up? Friends and family do tell me I delight in being an annoying pedant and while this is certainly true this is not the reason. This rather obvious slip-up appeared in virtually all the published reports – demonstrating that lazy hacks had done a cut-and-paste from one article to the next.

While this is hardly unusual, it does demonstrate the complete lack of objective research or indeed any sort of considered thought that has gone into these news stories before publication.

Anyway, that aside, it appears from our somewhat shaky reporting that of four recent studies into long-term lantus use, one has shown a slight increase in risk of certain cancers among users. The other three haven’t. This, however, was enough to get the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) interested; they concluded that:

The duration of patient follow-up in all four studies was shorter than what is generally considered necessary to evaluate for cancer risk from drug exposure… Further, inconsistencies in findings within and across individual studies raise concerns as to whether an association between the use of insulin glargine [i.e. lantus] and cancer truly exists. Additionally, differences in patient characteristics across the treatment groups may have contributed to a finding of increased cancer risk.

In other words, the tests were too small and too short to show anything of any meaningful significance. Despite the FDA saying this, not one of the newspaper reports considered how the studies were carried out, on whom, by whom, with how many people, whether the final reports were peer reviewed and whether there had been a significant meta-review of the topic. When you stop and think it’s astonishingly easy to pick holes in the entire thing.

So if it was so insignificant, why was this such a big splash? As we all know, the press love cancer scares and love reporting them badly and lazily. A non-specialist reporter with a looming deadline and column inches to fill is never going to give medical reports the time and in-depth consideration they need to be accurate.

So as a result we get ill-considered headlines “X causes cancer” (replace X with something you like or enjoy – red wine, chocolate, cycling, whatever). In fact we could just replace all these headlines with a generic title “Fun causes cancer”. In fact they already have.

Category: Living with diabetes Tags:

About Tim

Diagnosed with Type One when he was 28, Tim founded Shoot Up in 2009. For the diabetes geeks, he wears a Medtronic 640G insulin pump filled with Humalog and uses Abbott's Libre flash glucose monitor.

12 thoughts on “Fun causes cancer

  1. CALpumper

    Madness I tell ya.
    And I agree, as time moves forward (as it should and always has) another report will pop up that points to “something” causing cancer.

    Woo. Hoo.

    Thanks for your in-depth research. I write that, in-depth, seriously because yours IS compared to the supposed “mainstream” ones.

  2. Tim

    @CALpumper Thanks CAL – but I know it’s all academic to you pump users, you don’t give a damn about lantus 🙂

    The other thing about health scares is that they all relate to cancer, which I’ve just become dulled to now. I want to see scares about things that cause zombiefaction – now *that* would give you something to really worry about as I really wouldn’t want to roam the earth as one of the undead.

    Sounds worse than diabetes; would make a good blog though…

  3. Tim

    @Mark Mmmmm….spicy brains!

    And, yes, Shaun of the Dead was a good film – I was a big fan of TV’s “Spaced” with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost before, so I enjoyed the many Spaced in-jokes in the film…

  4. Lesley

    Carried off by diabetes complications? I’d rather be shot by a PCT sniper because I’m causing them and their neighbouring PCT buddies too much aggro!

    I wonder how long before “they” find that having a plastic tube resting against your belly causes some hideous condition…


    1. Alison

      @Lesley, I love the idea of a PCT sniper. I must be pretty near the top of my PCT’s hit list so I’ll be careful from now on when walking round corners, just in case that sniper is there!

  5. Lesley

    “Researchers found that patients on a chemo unit all had one thing in common – sterile needles and plastic tubing were being used to administer drugs. They concluded that sterile needles and plastic tubing could be a causative factor…”

  6. Alison

    @Lesley Scientists have also discovered that Type 1’s who use insulin suffer from diabetes for longer than those who don’t.

  7. Mark

    I believe the following cause cancer: boring desk jobs, cheap vodka, and Facebook. I’m sure there’s a study in progress…

  8. Ckoei

    Lots of older Northern European women with Type 2 diabetes use Lantus. Many older Northern European women tend to suffer of breast cancer because of founder mutations on their BRCA1&2 genes. If you milk Northern European databases and shake up this data, you are bound to come up with something that might taste of carcinogenic Lantus. PCT sniper, please shoot the milkman/journalist who delivered it as “news”.(That is, if PCT stands for Protector of Cow Tits?)

  9. Tim

    @Ckoei Ben Goldacre over at writes lots of this sort of stuff and his stuff is generally worth a read.

    PCT stands for Primary Care Trust – the local health care region / division – but should really stand for Protector of Cow Tits. That would make getting letters from them so much more fun.


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