Common myths and misconceptions about cancer

April 23, 2018 |

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Cancer. The word can strike fear into the hearts of most people. But how much do you really know about this condition?

Cancer is a term applied to a group of over 200 conditions. It develops when cells mutate and begin to multiply uncontrollably, without normal cell death mechanisms in place. These malignant cells often spread to other parts of the body where they damage more tissue.

Myths and misconceptions about cancer spread misinformation and can stop people from getting diagnosed and getting the proper treatment. It can also contribute to feelings of stigma and taboo that surrounds this disease.

Myth #1: Cancer is always fatal

Modern medicine has made huge strides in the treatment of cancer. Cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was. It is estimated that 40% of people diagnosed with cancer are disease-free in 5 years. The 5 year survival rate is a very important benchmark to predict overall recovery from cancer. Early diagnosis and detection greatly improve the survival rate. 

Myth #2: Cancer is contagious

Unlike most common diseases that are caused by viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, cancer is caused by changes in cellular DNA. These changes are often random. In most people, these mutated cells are destroyed by cell death mechanisms but if these mechanisms fail, then it develops into cancer. While cancer can spread within the body, it cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

Myth #3: Radiation therapy will kill you

Radiation therapy can be physically and mentally exhausting but it is a life-saving treatment. Radiation therapy has been optimized to deliver the maximum benefit and cause the least harm to the patients. Some side-effects are to be expected but these are not life-threatening. If you have any fears or doubts regarding radiation, you should talk to your doctor before refusing the treatment entirely. It could be a matter of life and death.

Myth #4: I have no family history of cancer, so I won’t get cancer

Cancer is caused by changes in cell DNA. A family history of cancer does increase your cancer of developing the disease. However, this does not mean that if you have no family history of cancer you won’t get cancer. Genetic mutations can be random, caused by environmental factors such as radiation exposure and pollution, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, and poor dietary habits.

Myth #5: Surgery for cancer will cause the cancer to spread

A lot of people with cancer undergo surgery to remove the tumor or collect a tissue sample for biopsy. There is no evidence to support the statement that surgery causes cancer to spread. Surgical tumor resection is an important and often life-saving treatment. Surgical removal of a primary or non-metastasized tumor (tumor that has not spread from its site of origin) actually helps to prevent the spread of cancer to other regions of the body.

Myth #6: All lumps are cancerous

A majority of lumps that are detected during screenings and medical examinations are benign or another condition entirely such as a cyst. A doctor will conduct tests to determine if a growth is benign, precancerous, or cancerous.

Myth #7: Your attitude determines the outcome of cancer treatment

It is normal to be sad, angry, or to feel negative emotions when you or someone you know receives a diagnosis of cancer. While it helps to maintain a sense of optimism and hope, these feelings shouldn’t be forced upon patients. Let people will cancer react in their own ways. A ‘positive attitude’ doesn’t cure cancer just as a ‘negative attitude’ doesn’t cause cancer. Nevertheless, it helps to keep a positive outlook and hope for the best. Modern cancer treatments can be very effective and survival rates have drastically improved over the last few decades.

2 in 5 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes making this a fairly common condition. Cancer can be frightening but to make it less of a monster, let us work to banish myths that further complicate the treatment process and spread stigma among the general public.Keep yourself updated on the facts and advancements in the treatment of cancer so that you know where we stand in the fight against cancer.

Sources:
https://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/learn-about-cancer/cancer-basics/cancer-myths-debunked.html
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths
http://www.cancerzimbabwe.org/myths.html
https://www.cancercenter.com/discussions/blog/busting-myths-7-common-misconceptions-about-cancer/