Debunking Common Cancer Myths
Hearing a diagnosis of cancer is a very scary situation. It leaves patients with a million questions and not knowing where to look for answers. Often times, patients ask family members or friends or turn to the internet. That can lead to confusing and conflicting information and often even false information that may be harmful.
There are many myths surrounding cancer and its therapies. It’s important to know the truth. Here, we examine 5 of the most common cancer-related myths.
Myth #1: Eating sugar will make my cancer worse, and cutting out sugar from my diet will cure it.
This is a very common myth that many patients ask about. Very simply put, it is not true. There are no studies that have shown dietary sugar affects cancer in any way, either positively or negatively. All of the cells in the body need sugar, in the form of glucose, to function properly, including healthy cells. The body also has a very complex way to control blood sugar, despite what we eat. High calorie diets can lead to obesity, which is associated with increased risks of several types of cancer, but eliminating sugar from the diet will not prevent or cure cancer.
Myth #2: I don’t want a biopsy of my cancer or surgery to remove my tumor. It will expose it to the air or cause it to spread to other parts of my body.
Surgeons follow special procedures and methods when they biopsy and remove tumors. For example, if tissue is removed from different parts of the body, then different surgical tools are used in each area. The risk of spreading a tumor during these procedures is extremely low and fear of this occurring is dangerous to patients who might decline a potentially life-saving surgery.
Myth #3: Cancer is contagious.
No. It is not possible to spread cancer from person to person. The only situation where this is remotely possible is during an organ or tissue transplant. If, and only if, the donor has had prior cancer, then the recipient of the organ or tissue is placed at higher risk of developing a future cancer. However, even this risk is extremely low (2 cases per every 10,000 transplants) and doctors avoid use of organs and tissue from donors who have a cancer history.
Myth #4: I’ve heard herbal supplements can cure cancer.
This is another very common myth, which oncologists are asked often by their patients. The truth is that there has been no herbal or natural supplement proven to cure cancer. Some studies do show these types of complimentary treatments can help patients with managing symptoms of the cancer or the treatment being given for cancer (chemotherapy or radiation). However, supplements must be used with caution as some can interact with cancer treatments which renders them harmful. Cancer patients should inform their doctors and pharmacist about any complimentary or alternative medications or treatments they are considering. This includes vitamins, juices and natural products. There are, unfortunately, a great number of people who prey upon patients’ fears about cancer and sell them all kinds of products which will not help.
Myth #5: All cancer is hereditary.
This is not necessarily the case. Cancers are caused by harmful mutations (changes) in genes. Only about 5-10% of all cancers are caused by mutations which have been inherited from the patient’s parents. In families that have a cancer mutation which is inherited, multiple family members can develop the same type of cancer. The remaining 90-95% of cancers is caused by mutations that happen to a person during their lifetime. These can be caused by exposures, environment and even aging.
The most important thing to remember is to seek a physician you are comfortable with to provide your cancer care. Bring questions with you about your cancer or your treatments, as they arise. It is also very important to inform your providers about any natural supplements or medications you wish to consider.
Michele Pipp-Dahm, MD is a medical oncologist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, where she treats patients with various forms of cancer. In addition to seeing patients at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, she treats patients at several affiliated regional locations in south-central Wisconsin.
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Date Published: 04/14/2016