11 Cancer Myths - And Truths

by Jane Ashley

As if it’s not bad enough to be diagnosed with cancer, it’s even worse when our friends, co-workers, and relatives share things that they have heard about cancer. They mean well, but many myths are floating around the internet. It’s time that we separate truth from fiction. Here are some of the common myths about cancer that simply are not true.

11 Cancer Myths And Truths

Chemo Kills – Not Cancer 

This myth is not just a myth. It’s also a dangerous myth that may scare people from seeking potentially curative treatment. There are several variants of this myth:
• Treating cancer is a $200 billion industry, and “Big Pharma” is suppressing natural cures.
• Some websites claim that 9 out of 10 oncologists would refuse chemo is they were diagnosed with cancer.
• Others claim that chemo may cause cancers to metastasize (spread) more quickly.
• Another claim is that chemo kills 97 percent of patients – that patients refusing chemo live 12 ½ years longer than a patient who receives chemo.

THE TRUTH: The mortality rate in the United States has been declining since the early 1990s. Dramatic declines in the death rates of the most common cancers (breast, colorectal, lung and prostate) have been recorded.

Sugar Feeds Cancer

 Another myth is that sugar feeds cancer. This myth is perpetuated in part because PET scans show increased metabolic activity – shown by the increased uptake of the radioactive atoms in the glucose given before the scan. Cancer cells are fast-growing cells and are metabolically active so they absorb more of the radioactive glucose. 

Its Okay To Eat The Cake

FACT: Every cell in our body depends on glucose for energy. But eating dessert doesn’t cause cancer to grow more quickly. Nor does depriving ourselves of all sugar slow down the growth of cancer. However, consumption of sugary foods may lead to obesity and/or diabetes which does increase the risk of developing cancer. Dana-Farber offers some helpful advice about healthy eating and cancer.

Related Article - Does Cancer Feed Off of Sugar?

Cancer Is Contagious

This myth probably developed a long time ago when little was known about cancer, and people were terrified of cancer. So friends, neighbors and relatives avoided the person with cancer.

Cancer Is Not Contagious

FACT: Cancer is not contagious. But it’s important to note that a few cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and these viruses can be spread by human contact. The HPV-caused cancers are linked to the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and some cancers of the mouth, throat and neck; the HPV vaccine dramatically reduces the risk of these cancers. 

Does Your Attitude Really Influence Your Outcome?

Outsiders just love to extoll the virtues of a positive attitude. Scientific evidence debunks this myth. Patients are already overwhelmed with stress from the diagnosis and anxiety about their family finances. Being told that you need to “stay positive” can add more emotional burden for any patient. Whether you have a positive attitude or a gloomy attitude doesn’t seem to influence the outcome of your treatment.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Elizabeth Edwards explained it best, “A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it's going to do is, every day, between now and the day you die, whether that's a short time from now or a long time from now that every day, you're going to actually live.”

Related Article - 30 Ways to Stay Positive When You Have Cancer

Surgery Makes Cancer Spread 

You may have heard that surgery causes cancer to spread like wildfire.

FACT: While it’s true that within 18 months of surgery, most metastatic tumors appear. It’s not a result of the surgery. What happened was that microscopic areas of cancer cells had already spread before the surgery. The wound-healing process may stimulate them to grow. But sooner or later, surgery or no surgery, those cancer cells that traveled through a patient’s bloodstream might grow anyway. That’s the nature of cancer.

Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer

This has been circulating around for about 20 years. It’s probably because we’re advised not to use deodorant or antiperspirants on the day of our mammogram because the aluminum in these products might show up on the mammogram.

Using Deodorant

FACT: There is no evidence that the aluminum salts used in antiperspirants to block sweat cause breast cancer. Some rumors even suggest that shaving under your arms and using antiperspirants right afterward is the cause. That’s not true either, nor is there any truth that wearing underwire bras cause breast cancer.

Patients Don’t Have Time to Get a Second Opinion 

They must start treatment ASAP. Many patients feel rushed to begin treatment and may feel that they will be risking their lives if their treatment is delayed.

THE TRUTH: Most cancers are slow growing. It usually only takes 2-3 weeks to get a second opinion. Studies don’t show any loss of effectiveness of treatment because of a slight delay in beginning treatment. What you gain – peace of mind and efficacy of treatment – is worth the slight delay.

The Second Opinion - It's Your Right

An Alkaline Diet Cures Cancer

This is one of the newer myths surrounding cancer prevention and cancer treatment. Cancer cells in a Petri dish thrive in an acidic diet so this is probably how this myth got started.

THE FACTS: Cancer cells create their own “mini-environment” that surrounds the tumor. It’s called the Warburg effect and it creates an acidic environment where the tumor is located.

The human body regulates the PH of within our bodies very strictly, keeping it between 7.35 and 7.45. Regardless of what we eat or do, our kidneys and lungs keep our blood PH in tight control. Trust your oncologist’s recommendations as to your diet.

We Haven’t Made Any Progress in The Fight Against Cancer

If you are newly diagnosed and you hear this statement, you are likely to be even more frightened. Fifty years ago, being diagnosed with cancer was usually a death sentence, but that is no longer true.

FACT: Between 1990 and 2014, the death rate from cancer in the United States dropped by 25 percent. Earlier detection and improved treatments have significantly increased the survival rates for the four most common types of cancer in the U.S. – breast, colorectal, lung and prostate. Survival rates are increasing around the world in more developed countries, but poorer countries face many hurdles, most importantly poverty decreases the chance of early detection and poverty limits treatment options in less developed countries.

Superfoods Kill Cancer

We've all heard them – apricot pits, carrot juice, broccoli, blueberries, raspberries, beets – you name a fruit or vegetable, and it may have been touted for its cancer-fighting properties.

Carrots Wont Cure Cancer

THE TRUTH: While it is true that eating a well-balanced diet contributes to good health, no particular food has ever been proven to prevent or cure cancer.

Big Pharma is Suppressing a Cure For Cancer

We have all heard that the pharmaceutical companies know that there is a cheap cure for cancer and are suppressing the information so that they can make big profits. Could that possibly be true?

FACT: Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that some drugs that appear promising don’t prove to be effective when tested on humans. What works in mice doesn’t always work in clinical trials on humans confirmed to have cancer. Respected medical organizations confirm that there is no truth to this rumor.

Whether we are newly diagnosed or have been in treatment for a few months or are experiencing a recurrence, we need to remember that every cancer patient who has become NED (No Evidence of Disease) got to that status through traditional medicine – chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery.

There are no quick fixes to cure cancer. There aren’t any simple causes of cancer either. Cancer is a complex disease that dates back over a million years ago. National Geographic reported that a foot bone estimated to be between 1.6 and 1.8 million years old was consistent with osteosarcoma. Egyptian mummies from 2600 B.C. show signs of breast cancer.

WhatNexters are a resilient group of cancer patients who seek to learn more. Keep informed and stay engaged. Stay positive if you can because it helps you cope with side effects and appreciate life. But if you’re down for a week or two, don’t be hard on yourself.
Just remember the old adages: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Or, “If something just doesn’t ring true, trust your gut feelings and be skeptical.”

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