Busting Common Myths About Cancer

Busting Common Myths About Cancer

There’s no doubt that cancer is one of the most feared medical diagnosis. Much of this fear may be justified, but it also causes a lot of misinformation. Sadly, people can suffer unnecessarily due to these misconceptions. For example, it might cause a stigma for those with cancer or may delay treatment.

Let’s look at the most common and untrue myths about cancer. Along the way, you’ll also get tips about how to prevent cancer or detect disease early. Prevention goes a long way toward improved survival.

Is Cancer Contagious?

This is perhaps the most unfortunate of all the cancer myths. Cancer is not contagious, but many suffer due to unfair stigma arising from this misunderstanding. If anything, you might be more dangerous to a person that has cancer than they are to you. Why? In some cases, cancer patients are immunocompromised. This weakening of their immune system could be from the disease itself or due to chemotherapy. This makes them more vulnerable to catching a cold, flu or other infection from those around them.

Although cancer itself is not contagious, there are some infections that might increase your risk for cancer. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact. HPV causes most cervical cancers and some cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum, mouth and throat. Even if someone does not have cancer, he or she can spread this virus, which may later lead to a cancer diagnosis.

Currently, HPV vaccines are recommended for preteen girls and boys to protect against HPV infection. Ask your doctor or pediatrician if your child should be vaccinated.

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Cancer Myths: Everyone Who Has Cancer Dies From It

The diagnosis of cancer does not guarantee that you will die from that particular disease. Survival from cancer depends on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease upon detection. Some cancers, such as testicular cancer, are curable even if the cancer has spread throughout the body. Other cancers, such as colon or breast cancer, respond best to treatment when detected early.

Cancer Myths: Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cancer?

This myth started back in the 1970s and even had some research to back it up. At that time, some studies showed that the sweetener saccharine may have increased the incidence of bladder cancer in rats. In response to this study, Congress required all food products containing saccharin to carry a warning label, and the label stuck. That is, since then, many people still believe that artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

The reality is that further study has shown no relationship between human cancers and commercially available sweeteners like saccharin (sold as Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin and NectaSweet, among others), aspartame (sold as Equal and NutraSweet), acesulfame potassium (sold as Sunett and Sweet One), sucralose (sold as Splenda) and neotame. All of these products are approved as safe and noncancerous by the United States Food & Drug Administration.

Does Sugar Cause Cancer?

If artificial sweeteners are safe, then what about plain old sugar? Now, while sugar itself may not cause cancer, a related disorder might increase your risk. If you have a diet high in sugar, you may also be overweight. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of these cancers:

  • Endometrial
  • Esophageal
  • Stomach
  • Liver
  • Kidney
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Meningioma
  • Pancreas
  • Colon
  • Gallbladder
  • Breast
  • Ovarian
  • Thyroid

As you can see, the list is quite long. It pays to keep your weight down for more reasons than one.

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Do Cellphones Cause Cancer?

If you have your smartphone close to your brain, and the phone emits any kind of radiation, could it lead to brain cancer? There’s a lot of controversy around this issue. For instance, the National Cancer Institute states that there is no real proof. Still, other authoritative sites like the Mayo Clinic and Scientific American aren’t so quick to judge.

Further research is ongoing, but for now, here are steps you can take to decrease any potential risk:

  • Keep your phone as far from your head as possible: use headphones or a hands-free set up; increase the distance of your phone from your head when you sleep
  • Carry your phone in a purse, backpack or belt clip
  • Limit children’s exposure to cellphones; teach them healthy habits starting at a young age

If Someone in the Family Had Cancer, You’ll Have Cancer

If you take this as a universal truth, then you’re making a mistake. There is no cancer that affects 100 percent of family members 100 percent of the time. Even though there are some cancers that may run in families, spontaneously appearing cancers are much more common. Also, risk factors like smoking usually have much more influence on the chances of developing cancer as compared to genetic factors.

There are some very rare cancers that may appear in several family members. There’s a wide variety of these cancers including disease of the breast, ovary, bone, brain, adrenal glands, thyroid, endometrium, intestine, liver, stomach, colon, skin, eye and kidney. Many of these familial cancer syndromes can be detected by genetic testing. If you suspect that your family might be affected, you should ask your doctor if a screening test is appropriate.

Surgery or Biopsies Cause Cancer to Spread

In the past, before doctors knew about the physiology and chemistry behind cancers, this might have been true. However, the risk of infection during surgery was also much greater in the past before sterilization became widespread. Did you know surgeons used to operate with their bare hands?

Now, physicians follow strict guidelines when performing biopsies or surgical cancer removals. For example, let’s say a cancer is being removed from different parts of the body. For each area undergoing operation, a new, clean set of instruments are used. This helps avoid the spread of any cancer cells.

Can Herbal Remedies Cure Cancer?

This is an area of fairly heated debate. Still, most conventional medical authorities do not indicate that herbal remedies can cure cancer. There may be some that claim otherwise, but it’s beyond our comfort level to promote any kind of cancer cure from herbs.

Preventing cancer is something altogether different. There’s a wide body of research into this field, and it’s difficult to sort out the bad from the good. One of the reasons is that much of the research is done around supplements. The quality and potency of these supplements are difficult to standardize, so analyzing the research is challenging.


How About Cancer Prevention Diets?

It’s certainly worth considering certain diets that may offer you a benefit. For instance, the popular Mediterranean diet is comprised of:

  • Plant-based foods, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
  • Herbs and spices instead of salt for flavor
  • Less red meat; three to five servings per month
  • More fish and poultry; two times per week or more
  • Red wine in moderation; one glass or less per day

Originally, this diet was studied due to its cardiovascular benefits. However, upon further investigation, the Mediterranean diet may also be of potential benefit in cancer prevention. In one study, women who followed this diet had a lower incidence of breast cancer. The women who had a diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil had an even lower risk.

Both nutritional and herbal research regarding cancer risk are ongoing continuously. Either way, a healthy diet certainly helps protect your heart. If it also helps prevent cancer, even better.

Do Deodorants or Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer?

The theory behind this myth is that by blocking perspiration under the arms, the body accumulates toxins that then affect the nearby breasts. Perhaps the ingredients in these products get absorbed into the breast tissue to cause cancer. Some pointed out that maybe the aluminum in some deodorants might be carcinogenic. Others stated that preservatives, called parabens, may mimic estrogen that could stimulate the growth of breast cancer.

Although these theories are provocative, when actual studies were done, no relationship was found between deodorants or antiperspirants and breast cancer.

What About Power Lines?

Those looming towers must have some effect, right? It’s true that power lines emit both electric and magnetic energy, but so do a lot of things. You might have guessed it ― power lines have not been shown to increase the risk of any cancers. The explanation is that the energy emitted is low-frequency and too weak to cause a mutation in your genes.


Like many medical and health myths, some of these might never go away. The best thing you can do to prevent cancer is educate yourself and stay healthy through diet and exercise.

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