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12 Common Myths About Cancer

February 18, 2020

common cancer myths

The internet contains many valuable sources of information about cancer. Unfortunately, it's also used to spread fear through myths and misconceptions that are repeated so often that many people believe they're true. These 12 statements about cancer are often relayed as fact. However, they are really myths.

Myths About Cancer

  1. A cancer diagnosis means the end of life.
  2. Cutting out sugar will cure cancer.
  3. Cancer is caused by artificial sweeteners.
  4. A biopsy or surgery will cause cancer to spread. 
  5. Cancer cures are being withheld.
  6. Cancer is a modern disease created by humans.
  7. Smartphones cause cancer.
  8. Advances in technology mean we should have cured cancer by now.
  9. Cancer is contagious.
  10. Superfoods can stop cancer.
  11. No family history of cancer means you're not at risk.
  12. Cosmetics cause cancer.

Debunking the Myths

No matter where you heard them, these myths aren't true. Keep reading to learn the truth behind the myths.

1. A cancer diagnosis means the end of life.

False. Cancer has never been considered a death sentence and survival rates are growing. The death rate due to cancer in the U.S. has dropped 27% in the last 25 years. The five-year survival rate from thyroid, breast, and prostate cancer is currently 90%. Major factors in this change include reduced smoking rates, early detection, and early treatment. Other factors that affect survival rates include the types of treatment available and how much cancer has spread.

2. Cutting sugar will cure cancer.

False. Though it's a common misconception that cancer thrives on sugar, your diet alone cannot cure cancer. This myth might stem from the fact that cancer cells consume more glucose than normal cells. However, reducing or cutting out sugar will not shrink cancer cells. High sugar intake has been proven to contribute to obesity which is linked to increased risk of cancer.

3. Cancer is caused by artificial sweeteners. 

False. Artificial sweeteners aren't made by chemicals or anything that increases the risk of cancer. In fact, most of them have been approved by the FDA. They are simply a way to sweeten foods without sugar.

4. A biopsy or surgery will cause cancer to spread.

False. This is a particularly dangerous misconception. Early diagnosis is one of the best weapons in the fight against cancer and avoiding tests and treatment can lower your odds of survival. Some people believe that cancers exposed to air or punctured by a needle or during surgery will spread to other tissue. There is no surgical data supporting the idea that exposure to air spreads cancer. Modern surgeons also take preventative measures to ensure that cancer cells don't spread to other parts of the body during surgery.

5. Cancer cures are being withheld.

False. Some beliefs that fuel this myth include the idea that cures are either too expensive to create or the government uses disease to control the population. However, neither of these ideas are true. The FDA and cancer care teams around the world are continuously making advances in the fight against cancer. However, every treatment must face rigorous safety tests to ensure there are no dangerous risks. Creating medicines that are safe as well as effective often means they are slow to get to market.

6. Cancer is a modern disease created by humans.

False. While humans have created many things that aren't kind to the environment, cancer existed long before we can imagine. In fact, dinosaur bones have been discovered with cancer. Recently, the femur of a 240 million-year-old ancestor to turtles was discovered with evidence of bone cancer. Longer life expectancy and better tools for diagnosis make it seem like more cancer exists today.

7.  Smartphones cause cancer.

False. There's currently no evidence to support the idea that any cell phones are capable of causing cancer. Cancer is caused by gene mutations and low-frequency energy emitted by cell phones doesn't mutate genes. Multiple studies have been conducted about the link of cell phones to cancer and no connection has been discovered. 

Related reading: Breast Cancer Misconceptions

8. Advances in technology mean we should have cured cancer by now.

False. Cancer is a complicated disease that mutates healthy human cells. The word cancer is used to describe over 100 related diseases which often have different properties. Additionally, the cells continue to mutate over the course of the disease, making it harder to study. Major advances have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, but there is still much to learn. 

9. Cancer is contagious.

False. While a family history of cancer may increase the odds of someone developing the disease, no types of cancer can be passed from person to person. There is an extremely low chance that the recipient of an organ transplant may contract cancer from donor tissue. However, surgeons avoid using organs of patients with a history of cancer. Some viruses that cause cancer (like HPV) can be transmitted from one person to another but cancer isn't contagious.

10. Superfoods can stop cancer.

False. While a healthy diet can help improve the way you feel, it cannot remove cancer from your system. Raw fruits and vegetables are a quality addition to a healthy lifestyle that can help you prevent obesity and other cancer risks. Superfoods are simply healthy choices not foods with superpowers.

11. No family history of cancer means you're not at risk.

False. While it's true that family history may increase your risks, cancer is not strictly a genetic disease. Only 5% to 10% of cancers are passed from parents to children. Genetic mutations usually caused by environmental factors and lifestyle choices are the most common causes of cancer.

12. Certain cosmetics cause cancer. 

False. It's a common misconception that since deodorant is applied under your arms near breast tissue it causes breast cancer. Additionally, many people think hair dye or other processes that use strong-smelling chemicals cause cancer. There is no evidence that the chemicals found in deodorants or antiperspirants cause changes in breast tissue. Additionally, there is no evidence that personal hair dye use increases your risk of cancer.

Knowledge is power, and eliminating common myths is one way of spreading knowledge.

Categories: Cancer Prevention