Common Cancer Myths Busted

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:

·         Does eating sugar “feed” 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.

·         Can 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. 

·         Does cancer surgery cause cancer 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.

·         Can 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.

·         If a family member has cancer, will I get it too?

It may depend but not necessarily.  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.

·         If I dye my hair am I more at risk of getting 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.

·         Will I get cancer if I talk on my cell phone a lot?

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.

·         Will eating more fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer?

There is a good chance that the more produce you eat, the less likely you are to develop cancer.   Studies show the biggest drop in cancer risk comes from moving from a low consumption of fruits and vegetables to where you are eating at least five servings or 2 ½ cups a day.  Produce contains important cancer-fighting compounds of phytochemicals and antioxidants in addition to satisfying hunger while limiting calories for a healthy body weight.