Breast cancer is a nasty thing, nobody could argue otherwise. That's why we run routine checks for that condition, because if it's caught early it's much more likely to be fixable. It means that sometimes, women will have a lump spotted before it's reached any damaging size and it can then be removed without resorting to much more serious surgery.
In East Africa, with the best will in the world, it is impossible to run such a program. You can't screen everyone when people have no transport to get to the hospitals, can't spare the time away from the fields, can't leave livestock unattended, can't cross certain territories because of tribal fighting or can't risk travel because of roaming bandits. It's worse than Manchester. So it's not too surprising to find that...
Breast cancer rates are more than four times higher in the UK than in Eastern Africa, new figures show.
Scary, huh? Live like the East Africans or your boobs will go lumpy.
Some 87.9 per 100,000 British women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, compared to just 19.3 women per 100,000 in Eastern Africa.
Note the quiet interjection of that word 'diagnosed'. It's the key to this finding. It's not talking about cancer rates, it's talking about cancer diagnoses. You can't diagnose people who don't come to the clinic.
Eastern Africa includes countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
And Somalia. Why leave that one out? Not much of a health service in Somalia at the moment. Anyway, here comes the extrapolation...
However, it warned that British lifestyles - including a high incidence of obesity, too much drinking and a lack of exercise - were contributing to high rates of breast cancer at home.
Well, at least they're not blaming this one on smoking. (Update: oh yes, they are) So what to do about the British cancer epidemic?
Women in Eastern Africa drink much less alcohol than British women and obesity is far less common. They are also much more likely to breastfeed - which lowers the rates of breast cancer even further.
They are doing none of it by choice. Obesity is bound to be far less common in places where food is far less common. Are they really advocating famine as a cure for cancer? The incidence of alcohol consumption is sure to be lower in places where much of the population is penniless. Is penury then the answer? As for breastfeeding, it would be nice to think they do it through choice, but in fact they breastfeed because there's nothing else for baby to eat. Remove all choice, all money and all food, and cure cancer!
Women - and men - in many East African countries also tend to die younger, through starvation, war, and disease. They are not being constantly checked for every possible illness as people are in the West. The longer you live, the greater chance you have of contracting any illness. Living longer doesn't give you cancer but it increases your chance of experiencing it.
Sure, being massively overweight is not good for you. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol every day is not good for you. Here, we have the choice. We can get fat or slim, we can be drunk or sober, women can breastfeed or buy formulated milk. On the whole, we are far better off than most of the people in East Africa because we live longer and rarely die of starvation or rampaging bandit gangs. We have a choice in all those things. Those people do not.
If we try to turn this society into East Africa, all sorts of cancers will decline because we won't be able to travel to the clinics to be diagnosed and we'll all die much earlier. East Africa is much warmer and sunnier than here, yet many, many people who live there want to live on this wet and grey island instead. They aren't coming for the climate.
They come because here, they can have money and food and shelter. Then they can have a choice.
Well, unless the WHO get their way. Then it'll be a real home from home, apart from the cold.