Common Misconceptions about Cancer That Need to Be Squashed

6 minute read

By Christopher Brown

Despite unfettered access to decades of in-depth research, cancer remains shrouded in mystery and misconceptions. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about cancer with a search online right now.

Researchers are far from knowing everything there is to know about cancer, but that doesn’t mean they know nothing. Decades of research have allowed scientists to rule out a few common misconceptions.

Sugar makes cancer worse

The internet helps us learn, discover, and connect. But it also helps propagate false information. Case in point, the theory that sugar consumption makes cancer grow faster. The theory posits that the carbohydrate-laden sugar molecules present in our favorite foodstuffs feed cancer cells, but the truth is much less click-worthy.

You see, all cells rely on sugar consumption for energy. It’s just simple biology. We mean, it’s not as if the sugar from your Snickers bar snubs your muscle tissue, automatically funneling towards cancer cells in the body. Biology just doesn’t work that way.

Marijuana fights cancer

Marijuana has been used to treat symptoms of nausea and vomiting that can come with common chemotherapy treatments. A few studies have shown that medicinal marijuana can treat neuropathic and stimulate pain. It’s even been shown to kill cancer cells in a laboratory setting.

But, and this part is very, very important, there has never been any empirical evidence that links marijuana consumption with shrinking cancer cells in the human body. The science is still quite new, and there’s still a heck of a lot to learn, but choosing to rely solely on marijuana as a cancer treatment is dangerous and entirely unproven. Consider yourself warned.

Naturopathic alternatives cure cancer

Another very dangerous set of beliefs is one often circulated by naturopaths with sales quotas. Don’t believe us? Then why don’t we take a closer look at the curious and tragic case of Steve Jobs?

The tech visionary opted for a naturopathic solution over more traditional, and more successful, treatment methods.  He tried acupuncture, special fruit juices, and counseling sessions with self-described “spiritualists.” He also died regretting his fatal decision.

We know it’s harsh, but it’s important. Traditional cancer treatments can be grueling, but they’re your best shot at survival. Listen to your doctor, follow your prescription exactly, and toss the expensive magic fruit smoothie in the trash. It might save your life.

It’s unpreventable

For quite a while, it was believed that there was absolutely nothing that an individual could do to lower their risk of developing cancer. To this day, and despite relatively easy access to online libraries of evidence to the contrary, people still believe that a cancer-free life has more to do with luck than a proactive, healthy lifestyle.

It’s simply not the case. Cutting out sugary drinks, living a more active lifestyle, avoiding second hand smoke, limiting alcohol and red meat consumption, wearing sunscreen … the list is actually quite long. The truth is, you can never fully eliminate your chance of developing some sort of cancer (at least not yet), but you can certainly lower your risk.

It’s hereditary

Wrong again. Well, sort of. Like the word “allergies”, the word “cancer” is a catch-all term that covers a lot of ground. Yes, some forms of cancer can be hereditary while other forms are caused by mutations that happen over the course of an individual’s life.

Hereditary cancers include bowel cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and more. These types of cancer account for somewhere between five to 10 percent of all reported cases.

Conversely, non-hereditary cancers make up a whopping 95% of all cases.

People with darker skin can’t get skin cancer

Another very dangerous misconception is the belief that individuals with darker skin tones can’t get skin cancer. This is categorically false. Whether you’re African-American, Caucasian, Indian, or Asian, you can develop skin cancer. Those with fair skin may be at a higher risk for skin cancer, but they aren’t the only ones who can get it.

If you plan on being out in the sun, UV protection is critical. Just as important, make sure you’re screening your body for irregularities. Examine your body. Get familiar with it. Take pictures. Remember, skin cancer can form even on places not normally exposed to sunlight. It’s also treatable if caught early. When it comes to protecting yourself from skin cancer, it’s all about being proactive.

Prostate cancer happens only in old men

Any time you paint a disease as complex as cancer with broad strokes, you set yourself up for disaster. For example, let’s take a look at prostate cancer. More than one million men are diagnosed with the disease each year with over 300,000 of them dying from it.

Though most diagnosed cases of prostate cancer occur in men over the age of 50, roughly 40 percent of cases occur in men below that benchmark. All the more reason to be extra vigilant and hyper-aware of all of its life-threatening symptoms.

Men can’t get breast cancer

Sorry gentlemen, you can develop breast cancer too.

Men developing breast cancer before the age of 35 is rare. In fact, most cases of male breast cancer occur in advanced ages. We’re talking 65+. That said, male breast cancer presents the same symptoms as it’s female counterpart, and falls in line with the same risk factors too. If the individual has large breasts, has a family history of breast cancer, or is taking estrogen supplements, they pose an increased risk.

Again, broad generalizations are dangerous. Know your body, inspect your body, and don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you notice any irregularities.

Antiperspirants cause cancer

There are some in the scientific community that have suggested a possible link between several types of antiperspirants and cancer. But a suggestion is far from empirical scientific evidence.

It’s the aluminum-based ingredients used in antiperspirants that have cancer researchers … ahem … perspiring. A genuine concern that shouldn’t go without notice.

It’s also important to recognize that, as of this writing, there are no studies linking the use of antiperspirants to any form of cancer whatsoever. There are theories, suggestions, and conversations, but no evidence. Feel free to steer clear of antiperspirants if you will, but try not to get too worked up about it.

Women don’t get colon cancer

Another broad stroke generalization that often leads people astray. Colon cancer is almost as common in women as it is in men. To be honest, we’re not even sure where this idea came from. Every year in the U.S., roughly 71,000 men and 64,000 women are diagnosed with the disease.

It may be uncomfortable, it may be invasive, but it’s also very important to get screened — especially if you’re over the age of 50. Colon cancer can be prevented if caught early along in the process. Do you want to keep on living? Thought so. So stop being a prude and get screened!

Cell phones cause cancer

The advent of the cellular telephone came with a whole host of strange, baseless, crackpot theories. Leading the way was the belief linking cell phone usage with brain cancer. This is not true. At least, scientists have yet to come to a consensus on the issue.

The confusion seems to have arisen following an uptick in brain cancer diagnoses since the 1970s (even though that doesn’t make sense since cell phones did not exist back then). But a 20-year, 420,000-participant study put those theories to rest quite soundly.

Today, many believe that the uptick in brain cancer diagnoses has more to do with other, more complex factors. As of this writing though, there has been no evidence linking brain cancer to cell phones.

Surgery helps cancer spread

Last but not least is the question of whether or not surgical removal of cancer cells can cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

In theory, yes it is possible. In practice though? The risk is a relatively small one. Doctors have technology that can detect stray cancer cells in the blood stream during surgery. As such, very little gets by them. Though the surgeons and technology are far from infallible, the process is relatively safe. So, if your doctor recommends surgery, you should probably agree with them.

Christopher Brown