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Know About the Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions

By Dr. Prachi Jain (Pediatric Oncology) in Medical Oncology , Cancer Care / Oncology

Feb 13 , 2017 | 8 min read

How cancer spreads? Whether my family members can get infected from me? What can cure cancer? All these questions can cause trembles in you if they are not answered properly. Any wrong information about cancer can cause worries and even hinder good prevention and treatment decisions.

Also Checkout: Cancer Introduction

Here we give you the basic questions that you would want your oncologist to answer. This will also clear the myths & misconceptions.

Is cancer contagious?

No. Cancer is not a contagious disease that can easily spread from one person to another. The only situation in which cancer can spread from one person to another is in the case of organ or tissue transplantation. A person who receives an organ or tissue from a donor who had cancer in the past may be at increased risk of developing a transplant-related cancer in the future. However, that risk is extremely low—about two cases of cancer per 10,000 organ transplants. Doctors avoid the use of organs or tissue from donors who have a history of cancer.

In some people, cancers may be caused by certain viruses (some types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, for example) and bacteria (such as Helicobacter pylori). While a virus or bacterium can spread from one person to another, however, the cancers they sometimes cause cannot spread.

Can I safely interact with children and others at home?

You may worry that these lifesaving treatments could somehow be harmful to your loved ones. The general answer to this concern is that physical contact is fine with children and other members at home.

Can cancer surgery or a tumor biopsy cause cancer to spread in the body?

The chance that surgery will cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body is extremely low. Following standard procedures, surgeons use special methods and take many steps to prevent cancer cells from spreading during biopsies or surgery to remove tumors. For example, if they must remove tissue from more than one area of the body, they use different surgical tools for each area.

Are there herbal products that can cure cancer?

No. Although some studies suggest that alternative or complementary therapies, including some herbs, may help patients cope with the side effects of cancer treatment, no herbal products have been shown to be effective for treating cancer. In fact, some herbal products may be harmful when taken during chemotherapy or radiation therapy because they may interfere with how these treatments work. Cancer patients should talk to their doctor about any complementary and alternative medicine products—including vitamins and herbal supplements—they may be using.

If someone in my family has cancer, am I likely to get cancer, too?

Not necessarily. Cancer is caused by harmful changes (mutations) in genes. Only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are caused by harmful mutations that are inherited from a person’s parents. In families with an inherited cancer-causing mutation, multiple family members will often develop the same type of cancer. These cancers are called “familial” or “hereditary” cancers. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of cancers are caused by mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime as a natural result of aging and exposure to environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke and radiation. These cancers are called “non-hereditary” or “spontaneous” cancers.

If no one in my family has had cancer, does that mean I’m risk-free?

No. Based on the most recent data, about 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lives. Most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occur throughout a person’s lifetime as a natural result of aging and exposure to environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke and radiation. Other factors, such as what kind of food you eat, how much you eat, and whether you exercise, may also influence your risk of developing cancer.

Am I too old for cancer treatment?

There is no age limit for cancer treatment. Decisions about cancer treatment for older adults should take into consideration the same factors as for young adults and should not focus on the person’s age alone. Many older patients benefit as much as younger patients from treatment. However, some older adults may have other illnesses that limit the use of specific treatments.

Plastic water bottle kept for long in cars can cause cancer

I once received a message on what’s app from my mother and since then i was continuously being haunted by my mother and wife about not carrying plastic water bottles to the hospital which are older than a day. The message read –

“Many are unaware of poisoning caused by re-using plastic bottles,” and says “bottles are safe for one-time use only; if you must keep them longer, it should be or no more than a few days, a week max, and keep them away from heat as well.” The email says the bottles contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), which it calls a potential carcinogen.

These emails are apparently based on a student’s college thesis. In fact, DEHA is not inherent in the plastic used to make these bottles, and even if it was, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says DEHA “cannot reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer, teratogenic effects, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, gene mutations, liver, kidney, reproductive, or developmental toxicity or other serious or irreversible chronic health effects.” Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), says DEHA “is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.”

We’ve made no progress in treating cancer

During the last 40 years, advances have been made in every area of cancer care—prevention, screening, and treatment. These advances have increased survival rates for most common types of cancer.

About 64% of today’s cancer survivors were diagnosed with cancer five or more years ago. And, approximately 15% of all cancer survivors were diagnosed 20 or more years ago. Over the next decade, the number of people who have lived five years or more after a cancer diagnosis is expected to increase by approximately 37%.

At the same time, better ways of managing nausea, pain, and other side effects help people maintain their quality of life throughout treatment.

Cancer thrives on sugar!!

The Internet is awash with claims that sugar feeds cancer growth and that eliminating sugar from your diet will cure the disease. However, there is no conclusive evidence that proves eating sugar will make cancer grow and spread more quickly. All cells in the body, both healthy cells and cancer cells, depend on glucose, a type of sugar, to function. And the body breaks down all of the food you eat into glucose molecules. So, eating sugar won’t speed up the growth of cancer, just as cutting sugar out completely won’t slow down its growth.

This doesn’t mean you should eat a high-sugar diet, though. Consuming too many calories from sugary foods has been linked to weight gain,obesity, and diabetes, which can increases the risk of developing cancer and other health problems.

A needle biopsy can disturb cancer cells, causing them to travel to other parts of the body

For most types of cancer, there’s no conclusive evidence that needle biopsy — a procedure used to diagnose many types of cancer — causes cancer cells to spread.

There are exceptions, though, of which doctors and surgeons are aware. For instance, needle biopsy usually isn’t used in diagnosing testicular cancer. Instead, if a doctor suspects testicular cancer, the testicle is removed.

Surgery causes cancer to spread

Surgery can’t cause cancer to spread. Don’t delay or refuse treatment because of this myth. Surgically removing cancer is often the first and most important treatment.

Some people may believe this myth because they feel worse during recovery than they did before surgery. And if your surgeon discovers during surgery that your cancer is more advanced than first thought, you may believe the surgery caused more extensive cancer. But there is no evidence to support this.

Do cell phones cause cancer?

No. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations, and cell phones emit a type of low-frequency energy that does not damage genes. More studies are required over long term to decide the impact.

Do power lines cause cancer?

No. Power lines emit both electric and magnetic energy. The electric energy emitted by power lines is easily shielded or weakened by walls and other objects. The magnetic energy emitted by power lines is a low-frequency form of radiation that does not damage genes. Nor does it depend on the thickness of the electiric cable or the distance at which it is from your work or home.

Cancer means Death

Cancer is not a death sentence. With advancements in cancer detection and treatment, the survival rates of patients have increased. In fact, people with cancer have survived five years or more after they are diagnosed with the disease. If the disease is detected early, it can be cured; especially lymphomaleukaemia and testicular cancers are curable even in advanced stages.

Cancer is always painful

Cancer is not painful in the early stages. However, as it grows/spreads to the other parts of body, it may become painful. Though most of the time, pain can be reduced with medications and other pain management techniques.

Everyone, with the same kind of cancer, gets the same kind of treatment- Is it True?

More and more cancers are being tailored based on your genes, what treatment you receive depends on how advanced your cancer is, how much has it spread and how is it affecting your overall health. The genes that you are born with shows that your body processes chemotherapy treatments and drugs differently as compared to someone else’s body.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer treatment is worse than getting the disease

It is true that chemotherapy and radiation therapy have their own side effects and can be undesirable at times. However, recent advancements have made chemotherapy, drugs and other treatments are tolerable. Cancer treatment is important to improve the quality of life.

Cancer Treatment is only meant to delay death

Early detection and right diagnosis/treatment can reduce the risk of cancers significantly. The treatment is provided to improve the quality of life of patients as the number of cancer survivors in increasing.  

Seek expert advice from an oncologist before you begin your treatment. Do not panic, rather gather all courage and clear your doubts.