Young female cancer patient meets with doctor

Top 5 Myths About Cancer

Cancer is prevalent and common in the U.S. – and so are the myths about the disease. Every year more than 1.6 million people receive a cancer diagnosis, which means about one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

The cost of cancer care continues to rise, both as the number of cancer patients increase and as treatments become more advanced and more sophisticated. By 2020, it’s expected that cancer care will cost $174 billion in the U.S.

Cancer, generally, is caused by harmful mutations in genes. In that way it is a genetic disease – but only a fraction of cancers are caused by inherited traits. In most instances, cancer is a result of a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors that doctors continue to study.

There are deliberate steps people can take to lower their risk of cancer, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating whole, healthy foods and exercising.

There are several common myths to debunk when it comes to the causes and treatment of cancer.

MYTH #1. Cancer is aLWAYS A terminal disease.

FACT: Cancer treatments have been advancing in the U.S. since the 1990s, and as a result the likelihood of dying from cancer is dropping. From 1991 to 2015, the overall cancer death rate fell by 26%.

The five-year survival rate for all cancers in the U.S. is now 67%, and the five-year survival rate for breast, prostate and thyroid cancers are now 90%.

How an individual responds to cancer treatment methods depends on a number of factors – including how fast the cancer is progressing, the extent to which cancer has spread in the body, the effectiveness of the treatment and how healthy the person is.

MYTH #2. Someone in my family has had cancer, so I am at risk.

FACT: Five to 10% of cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations from your parents. This means most of the time, cancer is caused by harmful changes in your genes that result from aging and exposure to external triggers like cigarette smoke and radiation.

While family history does play a role, it’s not the only factor.

Genetic counseling is available to help individuals and their families understand the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing in approaching hereditary cancer.

MYTH #3. No one in my family has had cancer, so I am not at risk.

FACT: Not necessarily.

Most cancers result from harmful changes in your genes due to exposure to external factors. Those include environmental factors, like UV radiation, exposure to radon and fine particulate matter; occupational hazards like exposure to certain chemicals, asbestos or radioactive materials. There are other risk factors, including diet, exercise and age; as well as use of tobacco and alcohol.

MYTH #4. Eating sugar makes cancer grow faster.

FACT: Blood sugar gives all cells, including cancer cells, the energy they need to stay alive. Some research indicates cancer cells use more blood sugar than regular cells – but there is no scientific proof that eating sugar makes cancer worse.

However, eating large quantities of sugar is linked in a less direct way to an increased risk of cancer. A diet high in sugar could lead to weight gain, which increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and possibly cancer as well.

MYTH #5. Cancer is contagious.

FACT: Cancer cannot be spread from person to person – except in the case of an organ or tissue transplant.

There are some viruses that are contagious that can lead to cancer development, including human papilloma virus, which can cause cervical cancer, and Hepatitis B or C, which can cause liver cancer.

This article is the third in a nine-month series explaining how to manage chronic conditions that can be costly for families and the health care system. For more information about the series, click here.

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Photo credit: FatCamera

 

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