8 persistent common cancer myths busted

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8 persistent common cancer myths busted

You’ve been diagnosed with cancer – now what?  There is much to think about and many questions to be answered.  Trying to understand and adjust to this new phase of life and what your diagnosis could mean and how it will change the way you live your life is a big step. 

Myths and misconceptions about cancer abound.  A cancer diagnosis is one of the scariest, life-changing events anyone will experience and everyone will have their own particular beliefs and opinions when it comes to this disease. Many may try to give you advice on this or that but when given bad information, it can lead to needless interference and possibly hinder necessary, scientifically-based cancer treatments. 

Here are some common cancer myths that have circulated over the years and the real truth behind them:

1.  Myth: Eating sugar “feeds” cancer

The short answer is no.  Research has indeed shown that cancer cells do consume more sugar (glucose) than healthy cells but no study has shown consuming sugar makes cancer worse.  Every cell in our body requires sugar as a fuel source.  Cancer cells do tend to “take up” sugar more rapidly than normal cells but avoiding sugar does not protect against cancer.

The main negativity against a high sugar intake is that it may contribute to excess weight gain.  Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer.  The other drawback of too much sugar is that foods typically high in sugar – cake, cookies, pie, candy, sugary beverages – have little to no nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals or antioxidants.  High-sugar foods are not health foods and during cancer, you want to be eating as nutritious of a diet as possible to keep your immune system strong and healthy.

2.  Myth: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer

Again, the answer here is no.  Many studies have been conducted on artificial sweeteners’ safety and no evidence has been found that they cause cancer in humans.  One sweetener, cyclamate, was found to increase risk of bladder cancer in rats and was banned by the FDA in 1969.  However, after reexamination, it was deemed not to be a carcinogenic product but the FDA has not reinstated cyclamate’s approval for other reasons.

Currently, the artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA for use include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (ACK, Sweet One, and Sunett), sucralose (Splenda), neotame, and stevia. 

3.  Myth: Surgery for cancer causes it to spread in the body

It is extremely unlikely that surgery to remove a tumor or having a biopsy would cause cancer to spread to other areas of the body.  Surgeons take many precautions to prevent anything like this from happening.  If tissue is removed from one area of the body surgeons will use different surgical tools for each area.

4.  Myth:  Herbal products cure cancer

If herbal products could do this, it would have made news by now.  The answer here again is “no” but they may be able to help patients deal with adverse effects of cancer treatment.  It is generally recommended during chemotherapy or radiation to avoid the use of any herbal supplement as they could interfere with the treatment.  Any cancer patient considering taking an herbal product must consult with their oncologist first for their opinion.

5.  Myth:  If a family member has cancer, I will get it too

There’s a small possibility but the development of cancer is multifaceted.  Changes in gene mutations is what causes most cancers and only around 5 to 10 percent of cancers are caused by harmful mutations inherited from a family member.  There is what is called “familial” or “hereditary” cancers but usually multiple family members will end up developing them.

About 90 to 95 percent of cancers are caused by mutations caused by aging or what a person is exposed to such as tobacco smoke and radiation which are known as “non-hereditary” or “spontaneous” cancers.

6.  Myth:  Hair dye causes cancer

At this time there is no convincing evidence that dyeing your hair causes cancer or increases the risk.  Hairdressers and barbers who are regularly exposed to large quantities of hair dye and other chemical products may have an increased risk of bladder cancer from what past studies have shown.

7.  Myth: Cell phones can cause cancer

Studies have not been able to prove this at this time.  Cell phones do emit a type of low-frequency energy but does not appear to damage genes.  But, if the use of having a cell phone next to your head bothers you, use the hands-free feature instead or limit time spent using them.

8.  Myth:  New cancer treatments are being blocked by drug companies and the Food and   

     Drug Administration (FDA)

Before any new drug is allowed on the market, the FDA must approve it.  The reason for requiring this approval is for all of our safety.  However, new cancer treatments can take years and years to be developed.  Scientific studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness before the new treatments can be prescribed for the general public.  Even doctors can get frustrated for the length of progress in finding and developing new treatments as they hate to see patients suffer.  But, the good news is, more and more people are surviving cancer than ever before thanks to numerous important advancements made in treating the disease.  It is expected in the coming years that even more successful treatments for cancer will be available further saving and extending individual’s lives.