Cancer claims many lives each year. The fear about getting cancer has led to many myths about the disease, both among people who are affected and those who are not. Knowing the truth is important to avoid needless worry and take the right steps to prevent occurrence or manage the condition. Here, we take a look at the common misconceptions and provide evidence from reliable sources to debunk them.
- Artificial sweeteners cause cancer: This is not true. Artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes are used instead of table sugar to sweeten foods and beverages. Examples include saccharin (Sweet Twin®, NectaSweet,®); cyclamate; aspartame (Equal®, NutraSweet®); acesulfame potassium (Sunett®, Sweet One®); sucralose (Splenda®); and neotame. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence to prove that these cause cancer in humans. Except for cyclamate, the Food and Drug Administration has approved all of these artificial sweeteners for sale in the United States.
- Eating sugar makes cancer worse: Though some studies have shown that cancer cells may consume more sugar than normal cells, there is no evidence that eating sugar may make it worse or vice versa. However, people who don’t have cancer need to note that excessive sugar intake can lead to weight gain and obesity, which are related to many types of cancer.
- Breast cancer occurs only in women: Even though their risks are a 100 times lower, men do get breast cancer. The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) says that it is estimated that each year about 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. The NBCF recommends that men do a self-exam to detect and report any untoward changes. Delayed diagnosis increases mortality risk in men.
- Cancer is contagious: Generally speaking, it is not a contagious disease. However, organ transplant from a person who had cancer in the past could increase transplant-related risks in the person who received the organ. Though the risks are very low, doctors avoid transplanting organs or tissue from people who have a history of cancer.
- Cancer may get worse if exposed to air: No, there is no evidence that exposure to air will make tumors grow faster or cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
- Using cell phones cause cancer: No. Reliable studies that have been completed have not provided any clear proof of this. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations. The cell phones emit a type of low-frequency energy with no capacity to damage genes. There are concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues. The American Cancer Society recommends that those with such concerns limit their exposure by using an ear piece and limiting cell phone use.
- Cancer is hereditary: This is not necessarily true. Cancer is caused by harmful changes (mutations) in genes and only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are the result of harmful mutations. Also, you are not risk free if nobody in your family had the disease. Genetic changes that take place throughout a person’s lifetime such as aging and exposure to factors such as tobacco smoke and radiation are responsible for causing many cancers. A healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise are factors that reduce your risk of developing cancer.
- Using hair dye increases the risk of cancer: There is no convincing scientific evidence that proves that personal hair dye increases the risk of cancer. However, some studies say hairdressers who are regularly exposed to large quantities of hair dye and related chemical products face risks of bladder cancer.
- Excess fat cannot cause cancer: It can. According to the American Cancer Society, extra pounds are the reason for one in five cancer deaths. This is because the risk of colorectal, kidney, pancreatic, gallbladder, thyroid, and prostate cancer are higher when you are overweight. In people who develop the disease, overweight worsens the prognosis. An obese person’s diet most likely has harmful fats and would be low in cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables.