Common Myths and Misconceptions about Cancer

Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions

Many popular ideas and notions about cancer are rooted in age-old theories, which is why they have managed to stick through, even today. However, cancer myths and misconceptions about such a serious condition can not only make way for unnecessary worries, but also disrupt cancer prevention and treatment decisions. Such misconceptions about cancer, be it about risk factors, treatment options, or side effects, should be strongly debunked so that no further stigma or taboo is attached to the disease, and no such misguided information can deter someone from seeking the right course of cancer treatment. Here, we have tried to dispel some of the common cancer myths vs facts that have been propagated for ages, without any scientific backing.

1. Cancer is a death sentence : First things first, this is the primary association with cancer, the very thought that comes to our mind when we say the ‘C-word’ is fatality. However, factually speaking, the likelihood of dying from cancer has steadily dropped since the 1990s. The 5-year survival rate, taking into account all cancers, is between 27- 70%. The lifespan of people with cancer depends on a lot of factors, including the rate of the cancer growth, the extent to which it has spread in the body, the availability of effective cancer treatments, the overall health of the person, and so on.

2. Eating sugar worsens your cancer : This cancer myth is far from the truth. While some research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) as compared to normal cells, there is no concrete study/evidence to indicate that eating sugar makes your cancer worse, or if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear. However, a high-sugar diet may contribute to excess weight gain, and obesity increases the risk factor for several types of cancers.

3. Artificial sweeteners cause cancer : Researchers suggest otherwise. If you have believed this cancer misconception all along, it might surprise you to know that the studies conducted on artificial sweeteners (sugar substitutes) such as saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and neotame have dismissed the idea that these are associated with cancer risk. All of these artificial sweeteners except for cyclamate have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States.

4. Cancer is contagious : Is cancer contagious? Well, generally speaking, no. The ONLY situation in which cancer can spread from one person to another is in the case of organ or tissue transplantation. If a person receives an organ or tissue from a donor who had cancer in the past, he/she may be at an increased risk of developing transplant-related cancer in the future. However, that risk is extremely low—about two cancer cases per 10,000 organ transplants. Doctors avoid the use of organs or tissue from donors who have a history of cancer. In some people, cancer is caused by certain viruses, e.g. some types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, and bacteria (such as Helicobacter pylori). While a virus or bacteria can spread from person to person, the cancers they sometimes cause cannot spread from person to person.

5. A person’s attitude determines his/her risk or recovery from cancer : Contrary to this cancer myth, there has been no convincing scientific evidence to date to establish that a person's “attitude” has got anything to do with his/her risk of developing cancer or succumbing to it. A cancer patient, when diagnosed with cancer, is bound to go through a deluge of emotions, including grief, pain, anger, frustration, and so on. Instead of blindly believing this cancer misconception, you should encourage someone with cancer to have a positive attitude, maintain social connection, stay active in general and so on, as physical activity and emotional support help you cope with cancer better.

6. Cancer surgery or tumor biopsy can cause the cancer to spread in the body : This is again a very popular cancer misconception, with no basis in reality. There is an extremely low chance of cancer spreading to other parts of the body due to surgery. Surgeons adopt the best practices and procedures to prevent cancer cells from spreading during biopsies or surgeries. For example, when it comes to removing tissue from more than one area of the body, medical professionals use different surgical tools for each area.

7. Zero cancer cases in family history means one is risk-free : The fact behind this misconception about cancer is the basic cause of cancer lies in changes in the DNA. Just having a family history of cancer does not increase your chances of developing the disease. On the other hand, if you have no cancer cases in the family, it doesn’t mean you cannot get the disease. Genetic mutations are often random, induced by environmental factors such as pollution and exposure to radiation, along with lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, and poor dietary habits.

8. Cell phones cause cancer : When it comes to talking about the misconceptions about cancer, this is one of the first things that comes to mind. According to the studies done in this field so far, there’s no concrete evidence associating cell phones with cancer. On one hand, the electric energy emitted by power lines is easily shielded or weakened by walls and other objects; on the other hand, the magnetic energy emitted by power lines is a low-frequency form of radiation that does not harm genes.
Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions

9. Certain herbal products can cure cancer : Although some theories suggest that alternative or complementary therapies including some herbs may help alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment, no herbal product has shown to be effective in treating cancer. On the contrary, some of them may be harmful when taken during chemotherapy or radiation therapy as they may interfere with the efficacy of these treatments. If you are considering any such complementary or alternative medical products (including vitamins and herbal supplements), you must check with your oncologist first.

10. All lumps are cancerous : Contrary to this misconception about cancer, a majority of lumps that are detected during screenings and medical examinations are benign or just a cyst. A doctor or medical professional will conduct tests to determine if the growth is benign, precancerous, or cancerous.

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