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Cancer Myths and Facts

When Reading up on Cancer, Avoid the Fiction Section

An important first step in obtaining knowledge is sorting out what is fact and what is fiction. A study by the American Cancer Society (Cancer 2005) found that more than 85% of Americans consider themselves at least somewhat knowledgeable about cancer, yet a substantial number of people still believe common myths about the disease and its treatment. Here are nine misleading ideas that research clearly shows belong in the "fiction" section:

Myth #1: Cancer is something that cannot be effectively treated.

Fact: The risk of being diagnosed with cancer and the risk of dying of cancer have decreased since the early 1990s.  In fact, more than 60% of people with cancer are living five years or more after the initial diagnosis. There are an estimated 12 million Americans who have experienced cancer and are alive today (equal to the combined populations of Los Angeles and New York City).

Myth #2: The cancer may not kill you but the treatments might.

Fact: A recent study found that 94% of patients who received chemotherapy would advise others to do so if their doctor recommends it. And, 87% discovered that new medications can help to minimize treatment side effects (NCCS Surviving with Confidence, 2008). On a different note, there's no conclusive evidence supporting the myths that needle biopsy (fine-needle aspiration) or that "air hitting the tumor" during surgery causes cancer cells to spread (metastasize).

Myth #3: Cancer and treatments are "one-size fits all."

Fact: "Cancer" actually includes a large group of diseases. What treatment you receive depends on where your cancer is, whether or how much it has spread, and how it's affecting your body. Even cells from the same type of cancer may have different features in different people.

Myth #4: All you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude, not treatment.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence to date that a positive attitude cures cancer. Placing inappropriate importance on attitude ("new age guilt") can cause individuals to blame themselves for not being positive or to feel disappointed when their positive attitude isn't improving their health. What a positive attitude can do, however, is improve the quality of life during cancer treatment.      

Myth #5: If you have cancer, it's probably your fault.

Fact: Cancer begins at the cellular level for reasons still not entirely understood. Researchers have identified risk factors for cancer (for example smoking, excessive use of alcohol and unprotected sun exposure).  Yet not everyone who is exposed to these risks gets cancer.

Myth #6: The medical community is blocking or withholding new cancer treatments.

Fact: Oftentimes medical professionals pursue cancer research because they have a family member or friend affected by the disease. They are just as dedicated to finding a cure as anyone else, because it affects them personally as well as professionally.

Myth #7: Now your family will get cancer.

Fact: Many people diagnosed with cancer have no family history of the disease. However, research tells us that some cancers may have a genetic link. The good news is that if indicated, family members are prompted to begin screening tests so if cancer does occur it is caught early.

Myth #8: Cell phones, hair dyes, antiperspirants, and deodorants can cause cancer.

Fact: To date, there is no scientific evidence to support that these items increase the risk of developing cancer. The National Cancer Society notes that artificial sweeteners, fluoridated water and stress have also not been scientifically linked to cancer.  

Myth #9: Nothing is ever the same after cancer.

Fact: Most people living with cancer are treated on an outpatient basis in their home community and can continue with some or all of their day-to-day activities. For example, many people can work part-time or full-time, care for children, and attend social activities despite undergoing cancer treatment. However, when cancer treatment is completed, many describe life as getting back to a "new normal." Our Survivorship Program Team will be there to provide resource support and assistance in developing a post-treatment wellness plan.

According to the National Cancer Institute, everyone is at risk for being misled by false information. It is very important to check new information with your treatment team or a recommended credible source before acting on it. Their "fiction avoidance" tips:

  1. Don't assume that everything you read is always true. As with any health news or tips, you should do research to determine if the information is evidence-based. Go to for evidence-based information.
  2. Don't rely on claims that a product has been studied--look up study results yourself or ask your health care provider. When you are a well-informed health care consumer, it is easier to determine which cancer information will best support your "Healthy Survivorship" goals.

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