Deborah Ross: Health scare stories can give you cancer

If you ask me...

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If you ask me, the news that alcohol is linked to cancer could not be more timely, as it coincides with the opening of my National Institute of Health Scares, which is situated just off the Holloway Road, opposite the National Institute of Listen, Love, You Have To Die of Something. This is unfortunate, we know, and it isn't easy, particularly as they can often be seen at the window, giving us the finger, but as giving the finger has already been shown to increase the size of tumours in mice, and make rabbits explode up the wall, I think we all know who will be having the last laugh.

My institute, which is entirely devoted to sucking all pleasure out of life, is open daily from 9am to 6pm. During these hours, you may come in to browse any of our literature: a wide and varied collection which includes Salt: It Knows Where You Live, and Cholesterol: It's In A Taxi And On Its Way, or consult any of our experts, all of whom have been fully trained in not scrutinising the evidence closely, if at all, whipping it up disproportionately, and then scaring you witless.

Last week, for example, we were consulted by a woman who said she was fond of knitting, and wondered how this could be killing her. Delivering bad news is always hard, and no one likes to do it, but we put it to her straight: if you knit indoors, we told her, you may well get vitamin D deficiency, but if you knit outdoors, there is a high risk of melanoma so, on the whole, it's probably better that you don't knit at all.

At all? she queried. I can't even knit in moderation, or perhaps every now and then at parties? No, we had to tell her. Plus, we continued, knitting is one of those gateway crafts that may well lead to quilting, which has been shown to trigger breast cancer in goldfish and may give you heartburn, gout, epilepsy and the terrible feeling you've left the house without turning the iron off.

So, anyway, now you know where we are, we hope to hear from you. Although we do not enter into individual correspondence, as this is associated with raised levels of having to find a pen, you are welcome to visit. Please, though, do try to ignore those at the institute opposite and, if tempted to give them the finger back, you might want to ask yourself this: do I really want to explode up a wall? Also, eating oily fish during pregnancy can turn your nose into an aubergine. This is just something worth knowing, is all.

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