Myths and Facts about Cancer

We routinely read and hear that everyday objects and products, such as plastic and deodorants cause cancer. Beyond being wrong, many of these myths may cause you to worry unnecessarily about your own health and the health of your family. These myths about cancer can be harmful or misleading. Sometimes reports or articles link certain products and other activities to cancer when, in fact, there is limited evidence from research to support the claims.
Consumers need accurate information to make informed choices about the way they live and play and what they eat and drink. False information can steer them away from healthy lifestyle choices. In addition, the Internet can confuse matters more as anyone can post their theories without explanation or evidence.
Before you panic, take a look at the facts. Let’s take a closer look at some popular myths about cancer causes and explain why they just aren’t true.

1. Myth: Antiperspirants or deodorants can cause breast cancer.
Fact: There’s no conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute of USA. Some reports have suggested that these products contain harmful substances such as aluminum compounds and parabens that can be absorbed through the skin or enter the body through nicks caused by shaving. But no clinical studies have yet given a definitive answer to the question of whether these products cause breast cancer. But the evidence to date suggests these products don’t cause cancer. If you’re still concerned that your underarm antiperspirant or deodorant could increase your risk of cancer, choose products that don’t contain chemicals that worry you.

2. Myth: Microwaving plastic containers and wraps releases harmful, cancer-causing substances into food.
Fact: Microwave-safe plastic containers and wraps are safe to use in the microwave. Many different chemicals are involved in the manufacturing of plastic, and some of these may cause cancer. It is possible that these chemicals may leach out of the container and into the food it holds. Thus plastic containers not intended for use in the microwave could melt and potentially leak chemicals into your food. There has been some concern that food may absorb some of the plasticizer used in plastic to make it more flexible – particularly at high temperatures when microwaving or when heating fatty or oily foods like cheese and meat. To ensure the safe use of containers or wrap that are in contact with food during re-heating, you can do the following:
Use glass, ceramic and plastic containers and plastic wrap that are labeled as microwave safe – for example packaged food with labeling instructions for heating in the package or storage containers sold for use in microwave ovens.
Never heat or store food in plastic containers that were not intended for food.
If you’re using plastic containers for storage, let the food cool before storing, then refrigerate it immediately. Avoid plastics and containers that are visibly damaged, stained or have a bad smell.

3. Myth: Commercial Artificial Sweeteners cause Cancer
Fact: In 1969 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of USA banned the artificial sweetener cyclamate because research findings suggested it might be linked to bladder cancer. It is still banned although subsequent studies have failed to demonstrate that it causes cancer. Research also suggests there is no link between cancer and popular artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame. The FDA regulates all sweeteners and regulate new products as they enter the market.

4. Myth: People with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster.
Fact: Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.
This misconception may be based in part on a misunderstanding of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive tracer — typically a form of glucose. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tissues that are using more energy — including cancer cells — absorb greater amounts. For this reason, some people have concluded that cancer cells grow faster on sugar. But this isn’t true. Even if a patient is deprived of glucose in diet, body will itself make glucose by breakdown of body fats and proteins.

5. Myth: Regularly eating meat cooked on a charcoal grill won’t increase cancer risk.
Fact: Nutrition advice in the media has been contradictory about the health effects of grilled meats. Compared with frying in oil, grilling or baking meats avoids adding extra fat and associated calories to the meal. But chemists have found grilling meats creates chemicals linked to cancer in animals. The worrisome chemicals created by grilling meats are called heterocyclic amines (HAs). They form during grilling, broiling or even searing meat in a very hot frying pan — when the very high temperatures break down the amino acid creatinine. There is also some concern that fats from the meat dripping onto coals create additional chemicals in smoke that may land back on the meat. You can increase your cancer risk by eating too much grilled red meat or chicken or even meat pan-fried at a very high temperature. Meat or chicken that is well-done or burnt appears to be the most problematic. Based on the existing research, the best approach may be to enjoy grilled meats occasionally, but not on a regular basis. This is a judgment call, but it makes sense to limit your exposure to carcinogens (chemicals linked to cancer), which are found in these grilled meats. When you do grill or broil meat, you can minimize your consumption of unhealthful chemicals in a few ways:
• Don’t eat blackened or burnt parts.
• Precook meats in the oven or microwave, and then finish on the grill for just a few minutes.
• Substitute grilled vegetables or fruits for part of the meat in your meal.
• Eat smaller portions of grilled meats.
• Don’t substitute processed (luncheon) meats for grilled meat, though. Processed meats contain different kinds of carcinogens that may be even more harmful.
What you eat is even more important than how it’s cooked. The best advice is to follow a diet in which foods from plant sources predominate.

6. Myth: Good people don’t get cancer.
Fact: In ancient times illness was often viewed as punishment for bad actions or thoughts. In some cultures that view is still held. If this were true, though, how would you explain the 6-month-old or the newborn who gets cancer? These little ones haven’t been bad. There’s absolutely no evidence that you get cancer because you deserve it.

7. Myth: Cancer is contagious.
Fact: There’s no need to avoid someone who has cancer. You can’t catch it. It’s OK to touch and spend time with someone who has cancer. In fact, your support may never be more valuable. Though cancer itself isn’t contagious, sometimes viruses, which are contagious, can lead to the development of cancer. Examples of viruses that can cause cancer include:
• Human papilloma virus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted disease — that can cause cervical cancer and other forms of cancer
• Hepatitis C – a virus transmitted through sexual intercourse or use of infected intravenous (IV) needles — that can cause liver cancer
• HIV and AIDS- lead to decrease in body immunity, which in turn leads to more chances of developing various types of cancer.
Talk to your doctor about ways to protect yourself from these viruses.

8. Myth: Hair dye causes brain cancer.
Fact: There has been a lot of speculation about hair dye and cancer. It has been thought that hair dye caused several different types of cancers like bladder and breast cancer, but there is no evidence of it causing brain tumors. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, hair dye does not increase the risk of developing cancer.

9. Myth: Use of Cell phones cause cancer.
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, cell phones are not believed to be a cause of cancer. There is no credible study available that consistently proves that using a cell phone has the ability to cause cancer.

10. Myth: If your mother or father had cancer, you will have it too.
Fact: While it is true that some cancers are genetic, this does not mean that one will definitely develop cancer because of their heredity. Cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer are a few of the cancers that can be passed down genetically. If a parent has these cancers, the cancer gene may be passed to their child. If a child inherits the gene, it only raises the likelihood of developing cancer, not guaranteeing a cancer sentence. But most of these cancers happen by chance, genetic transmission is responsible for less than 10% of these cancers.

11. Myth: Cancer causes hair loss.
Fact: Cancer does not cause hair loss. Hair loss is a side effect of cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Not everyone who has chemotherapy or radiation lose their hair. It depends upon the type of chemotherapy drugs one may be receiving.

12. Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
Fact: This is by far the biggest cancer myth of all. Men get breast cancer also! But the risk is far less. On an average about 1% breast cancer cases are men. Male breast cancer is uncommon, yet still happens.

13. Myth: Cancer is almost always fatal.
Fact: Yes, cancer can cause death. But new breakthroughs in early detection of cancer have made it much more treatable. It is estimated that 40% of cancer patients reach or exceed the five year survivor mark! Most of the cancers are curable if diagnosed in early stage and treated adequately.

14. Myth: Positive thinking will cure cancer.
Fact: While maintaining a positive outlook during cancer treatment is essential, it will not cure cancer. Being optimistic helps improving quality of life and also face the difficulties better during treatment. There is no scientific evidence that a positive attitude will cure cancer.

15. Myth: Some people are too old for cancer treatment
Fact: There is no age limitation for cancer treatment, which can be just as helpful for older adults as for younger adults. But most of chemotherapy drugs may be more toxic in older individuals. With some dose reductions and use of non toxic targeted therapies it may be possible to give treatment to many older patients also. People with cancer should receive the treatment that is best suited to their condition, regardless of age. Some older adults may have other illnesses that limit the use of specific treatments, so older adults with cancer are encouraged to discuss with their doctor about the best approach to their disease.

16. Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.
Fact: If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. However, 8 out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. Sometimes women stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

17. Myth: Having BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will surely lead to breast cancer.
Fact: While alterations in these genes in women can predispose an individual to an increased risk of breast cancer, only 5% to 10% of patients actually have this mutation. This is not an absolute correlation. Like your age or having a family history of breast cancer, it’s a factor you just can’t control. But you can let your physician know, perform regular breast self-exams, mammography and MRI of breasts to detect the cancer early and get treatment.

18. Myth: I’m not going to breastfeed because breastfeeding would increase my risk of getting breast cancer.
Fact: Just the opposite is true. Breastfeeding may actually decrease the risk of breast cancer.

19. Myth: Wearing Bra lead to breast cancer
Fact: Over the past few years, there have been reports, e-mails and websites that say wearing a bra might cause breast cancer. At this time, there is no reliable, scientific evidence that shows a link between wearing a bra and developing breast cancer.

20. Myth: A physical blow or injury cause cancer
Fact: A diagnosis of cancer can happen soon after a physical injury – but this is usually because the examination or test for the injury brings attention to an pre-existing lump/swelling leading to the discovery of a cancer. For example, a bone that is weak from a cancerous tumour is more likely to break if hit, and treating the broken bone leads to the discovery of the cancer. Injuries cannot cause cancer but an injury may lead to finding cancer in the injured area.

Written and compiled by Dr Sachin Gupta
Cancer Medicine in India

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