Chances Are, You Won’t Get Ill

A hypochondriac is someone who, given certain physical symptoms, is inclined to imagine the worst possible disease. What is hard to understand is why some people dwell so obsessively on illness and death, when the odds indicate these outcomes are very unlikely. Health worriers are concerned endlessly with the stakes—cancer, heart attack, AIDS, a lonely and painful death in a hospital—and forget the odds. The trick, then, is — first of all — to start thinking about the odds. If you have a breast lump, what are the chances of it being cancer rather than a cyst? Most illnesses are benign. Most of us get only one fatal disease per lifetime.

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