Though cancer is, according to CDC figures, the second leading cause of death in the United States, the general public is still relatively in the dark when it comes to information about the disease. And what makes things worse is that so many misconceptions about it are spread far and wide—both online and off—making it difficult for patients and hypochondriacs alike to decipher real medical advice from baseless fallacies.
Herewith, we’ve gathered scientific evidence and expert medical advice to debunk the most common cancer myths once and for all. And for more insight into the disease, here are The 20 Most Common Types of Cancer.
Eating sugar will worsen your cancer.
Perhaps because cancer cells consume more glucose than other cells, people have come to believe the fallacy that eating sugar will worsen the disease. However, the National Cancer Institute disputes this claim, noting that “no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear.”
Using a cellphone can cause cancer.
This common cancer myth stems from the fact that cell phones give off electromagnetic radiation. However, there is a difference between high frequency radiation (like those from x-rays) and low frequency radiation (which you’d find from cell phones)—and while high frequency radiation can increase your risk of cancer, there is no conclusive evidence that low frequency radiation has such an effect on the body.
As one 2015 study out of the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks noted, “The epidemiological studies on mobile phone radio frequency electromagnetic field exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumors [and] they do not indicate an increased risk for other cancers.”
Cancer is 100 percent hereditary.
Though research is still being done into the causes of cancer, the National Cancer Institute puts the number of cancers that are hereditary at somewhere between five and 10 percent. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of known cancers are the result of everything from exposure to harmful environmental agents like tobacco to natural gene mutations due to aging. And for ways to avoid those non-hereditary cancers, check out the 20 Surprising Habits That Increase Your Cancer Risk.
Only women can get breast cancer.
Though much less common, it is possible for a man to develop breast cancer. According to the non-profit Breastcancer.org, an estimated 2,550 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2018, and the average man has a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting it in his lifetime.
Dyeing your hair increases your risk of getting cancer.
Studies on the cancer-inducing affects of hair dye have had conflicting results. Because of this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2010 that the use of hair dye is “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”—though they did warn that “occupational exposures as a hairdresser or barber are probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Consuming artificial sweeteners causes cancer.
People became concerned in the 1970s and ’80s when studies came out showing that artificial sweeteners, like saccharin and aspartame, could cause cancer in mice, but further testing proved that these substances didn’t have the same affect in humans. Today, the Food and Drug Administration maintains that all of these sugar substitutes (barring cyclamate) are safe for consumption.
How much you weigh has nothing to do with your cancer risk.
Unfortunately, your weight and your risk of cancer are directly correlated. According to data from the GLOBOCAN project, an estimated 3.5 percent of new cancer cases in men and 9.5 percent of new cancer cases in women were weight-related in 2012. There are many possible explanations as to why obesity puts people at a greater risk for cancer, one of which being that people who are overweight often have chronic low-level inflammation, which can damage DNA over time and develop into the disease.
People with darker skin can’t get skin cancer.
Having darker skin doesn’t protect you from the perils of the sun. In fact, though skin cancer is more often seen in people with lighter skin, one study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that the disease is more fatal in people with darker skin tones.
What’s more, some skin cancers—like acral melanoma, the type that killed Bob Marley at the relatively young age of 36—are more often seen in people of color, so it’s important to always apply sunscreen before going outside. And for more insight into the disease, here are the 20 Skin Cancer Symptoms Everyone Needs to Know.
Using antiperspirant causes breast cancer.
This myth originated online as a rumor: that substances in antiperspirants could infiltrate the lymph nodes in the armpit and mutate cells to cause cancer. However, the American Cancer Society rebukes this claim, noting that there is “very little scientific evidence” to back this supposed science up. And when comparing 813 women with the disease and 793 women without it, one 2002 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that there was no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or armpit shaving.
People being treated for cancer must remain in the hospital.
Though the treatment for cancer does involve several trips to the hospital, you by no means have to remain there until you go into remission. In fact, many people with cancer in the early stages are able to continue living their lives, going to the hospital only for treatments and check-ups.
Breast implants increase your risk of breast cancer.
One meta-analysis published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery concluded that “breast implants do not pose any additional risk for breast cancer,” so there is no reason to be afraid of getting breast implants if that is what you so desire. However, it’s important to note that there does seem to be a very small link between implants and a rare type of treatable cancer called anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, which is something that women considering implants should be aware of.
Only cigarette smokers can get lung cancer.
While it is true that people who smoke are up to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer, those who don’t are also at risk thanks to other things like secondhand smoke, radon in the air, and exposure to asbestos.
If you have HPV, then you are definitely going to get cervical cancer.
Some strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, develop into cervical cancer over time, but not always. According to the American Sexual Health Association, an estimated 14 million new cases of HPV occur each year in the United States, but this year the American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that a comparatively far fewer 13,240 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Cancer can’t spread from person to person.
Cancer itself isn’t something that can be caught via human contact, but there are cancer-causing viruses that can be transmitted from person to person. Take HPV, for instance: This infection, transmitted via sexual intercourse, can potentially lead to cervical, mouth, and throat cancers years after exposure (though, as explained earlier, it’s uncommon for it to turn into something serious).
The more dairy you consume, the more likely you are to get breast cancer.
No, you don’t need to give up parmesan cheese and yogurt parfaits to keep yourself safe from breast cancer, seeing as one study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology concluded that there is “no significant association between intakes of… total dairy fluids or total dairy solids and breast cancer risk.” On the contrary, Science Says Eating Meat and Cheese Will Extend Your Life—No Joke!
Having a bad attitude will make your cancer worse.
Often when a person with cancer is not seeing any improvement, their instinct is to blame themselves and their negative attitude as the root of the problem. However, the American Cancer Society notes that there does not seem to be a link between personality traits and cancer survival rates. “Based on what we know now about how cancer starts and grows,” they wrote, “there’s no reason to believe that emotions can cause cancer or help it grow.” But if you do want more positivity in your life, here are 15 Body Positive Affirmations That Actually Work.
Having surgery causes cancer to spread.
“There is no evidence to support the idea that… surgery causes cancer to spread,” says the Cancer Council NSW. Because the disease grows and multiplies entirely through the blood, there is just no way that having surgery would make it worse.
Herbal supplements can cure cancer.
Herbal supplements can help put a person with cancer on the path to remission, but only when used in combination with conventional treatments. But since some supplements, like St. John’s Wort, interact poorly with traditional medicines, it’s important to let your doctor know which herbal remedies you want to try before starting a new experimental regimen.
Air exposure will cause cancer to spread.
Because many people come out of biopsies feeling worse than they did going into it, one common myth in the cancer community is that exposing cancer to the air will worsen it. However, as authors Jamie Schwachter, BSN, MSN, CNP and Josette Snyder, BSN, MSN, AOCN, noted in their book The Complete Cancer Organizer, “there is no factual evidence that suggests that a biopsy of a lesion can result in a cancer spreading, nor is there any evidence to suggest that… exposing a tumor to air can cause the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.”
Getting cancer is a death sentence.
Thanks to technological advances and medical discoveries, a person’s chances of living with cancer are much better than what they used to be. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for all types of cancers combined is around 67 percent, and that statistic is as high as 90 percent for specific cancers like breast, prostate, and thyroid. And your chances of surviving cancer get better the earlier you catch it, so make sure to watch out for these 23 Cancer Warning Signs Hiding in Plain Sight.
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