12 spooky cancer myths unmasked

Monday, 31st October 2016 | General | 0 comments

Happy Halloween everyone! Today might be the spookiest day of the year, but if you’re suffering from cancer everyday can seem pretty scary. 

Not only do you have your own diagnosis to worry about, there are also masses of false information and pretty scary myths to contend with too.

Today we’re setting the record straight.

We’ve compiled a list of 12 of the most popular cancer myths, as our trustee Professor Ross Sibson reveals the truth behind each one.

1. Going for scans an mamograms can cause cancer. and its spread. 

2. underwire bras can cause breast cancer.

3. Cancer has a sweet tooth- consuming sugar will worsen cancer.

4. Cancer is contagous.

5. The use of mobile phones is a cause of cancer.

6. If someone in the family has cancer, I am likely to get it too.

7. Cancer treatment kills more than it cures.

8. Hair dye and antiperspirants cause cancer.

9. Cancer spreads when exposed to air during surgery.

10. Cancer is a man-made disease.

11. Sharks don't get cancer.

12. We've made no progress in treating cancer.


  1. Going for scans and mammograms can cause cancer, and its spread.

There a two different points here. Firstly there are two main types of scans:

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans- MRI scans use a powerful magnetic field to build 3D images by absorbing and releasing radio waves. There is no risk because radio waves have a very long wave length, and therefore are not harmful.

CT (Computed Tomography) scans- CT Scans use X-Rays to build 3D images. X-Rays have short wavelengths and can cause DNA damage. However this process happens daily through a number of natural processes, and therefore the body has mechanisms for coping with this damage.

In terms of risk to patients, the effects of scans is very minimal. For example:

  • Mammography exposes people to 0.4 mSv
  • The extra dose from spending 2 days in Denver is 0.006 mSv
  • The dose from the airplane flight is 0.04 mSv
  • The average annual dose from food is 0.3 mSv
  • The average yearly background dose is 3.1mSv
  • The limit for a radiation worker per year is 50 mSv.

So you can see that annual radiation dose is much more than you get from a mammogram.


  1. Underwire bras can cause breast cancer.

This is very, very unlikely. The idea comes from the benefits of good circulation. Any bra will press on tissue, and may slightly restrict blood flow, but there is no credible evidence that this causes breast cancer.


  1. Cancer has a sweet tooth- consuming sugar will worsen cancer.

It is true that cancer uses glucose as an energy source, but our bodies regulate glucose levels in our blood, so the level should remain constant. The greatest risk from sugar is long-term health problems, like tooth decay and type II diabetes.


  1. Cancer is contagious

Cancer is not contagious, except a rare form that affects Tasmanian devils. They are prone to being aggressive and fighting with each other. Their bite carries a high risk of transmitting cancer that is circulating in their blood stream. Once transferred their immune system doesn’t recognise it as ‘foreign’ and fails to clear it.

Human to human transmission is extremely rare. Blood transfusions don’t spread cancer because our immune systems recognise anything from other people as ‘foreign’. That’s why transplants are so difficult, and rely on immunosuppressive drugs.


  1. The use of mobile phones is a cause of cancer.

This is another highly contentious and improbable idea. Damaging radiation is ionising, whereas microwaves as used in mobile phones is non-ionising, and therefore not harmful.

The obvious place at risk is the head, so users would worry about brain cancers. Extensive research, in many different countries around the world, have found no link between mobile phone use and brain cancer.


  1.  If someone in the family has cancer, I am likely to get it too.

This isn’t true at all. Cancers acidify their environment, if the environment becomes to acidic they won’t survive. As far as an acidic diet is concerned, it makes little difference to the level of acid within the body, as our body regulates our levels. A poor diet that’s high in fat is unhealthy. Constantly eating fatty foods places a great strain on the digestive system and causes inflammatory conditions, increasing the risk of cancers.

High volumes of alcohol consumption does lead to cancer. Too much alcohol gets converted to aldehyde, and these are highly reactive to chemicals that can damage the proteins and DNA, leading to inflammation and cancer.


  1. Cancer treatment kills more than it cures.

Even a cursory consideration would expose this as false. All treatments for use on humans are highly regulated, and require extensive clinical trials before they are approved for use. Trails occur in three phases, anything that is harmful for humans wouldn’t even pass the first phase.


  1. Hair dye and antiperspirants cause cancer.

Use of chemicals in products for human use is highly regulated, and cancer-causing chemicals are strictly forbidden. If hair dye or antiperspirants caused cancer these would be cancers of the scalp or armpit, and since there isn’t an epidemic of such cancers we can all rest assured.


  1. Cancer spreads when exposed to air during surgery.

Many types of surgery don’t involve exposure of the affected site to the air at all. And those that do require blood vessels to be clamped off; preventing any possibility of spread during operations.


  1. Cancer is a man-made disease.

Cancer is a disease of our genes. If the genes in one of our cells become damaged then there is a risk that it will go on to cause cancer. Most cancers form from a series of sporadic events, most often out of our control. Whilst cancers are not man-made, there are some factors which increase our risk of developing cancer, such as:

  • Too much sun
  • Smoking,
  • Drinking alcohol excessively,
  • Unhealthy diet.


  1. Sharks don’t get cancer

Sharks do get cancer. They just don’t have a primary referral centre where they can be checked out and treated. The types of cancers sharks get are different to the cancers human gets. The most common human cancers are lung, colorectal and breast. Western lifestyles all contribute to the risk of these. Not having breasts, or convenient ways of smoking rules out lung and breast cancers for sharks, and their diet probably helps as far as their bowels are concerned. 


  1. We’ve made no progress in treating cancer.

We have made dramatic progress in treating cancer. Advanced breast cancer used to mean that no further treatment was possible. Now certain types are known to respond to Herceptin. This drug was developed directly because of new knowledge, research and funding from cancer charities.

Advanced melanoma was almost universally fatal with poor response to therapy. Thanks to research new drugs have been developed, that cause melanoma to shrink dramatically.

New knowledge has allowed clinicians to use the immune systems to fight cancer. Some cancers evade the immune system, and progress has been made to understand this process, allowing cancer to be discovered and targeted.

These are just some examples of the many different breakthroughs that have happened over the years. We are in the golden age of knowledge and new cancer treatments, and more will follow with the right support.


To help us to continue to make breakthroughs, and one-day stop cancer donate today.


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