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Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions

Posted 2/22/2016 by UHBlog

Even though they are scientifically wrong, certain popular ideas about how cancer starts and spreads might seem to make sense. But wrong ideas about cancer can lead to needless worry and even hinder good prevention and treatment decisions. This page provides the latest science-based information about some common cancer myths and misconceptions.

Is cancer a death sentence?

In the U.S., the likelihood of dying from cancer has dropped steadily since the 1990s. Five-year survival rates for some cancers, such as breast, prostate and thyroid cancers, now exceed 90 percent. The five-year survival rate for all cancers combined is currently about 66 percent.

It is important to note, however, that these rates are based on data from large numbers of people. How long an individual cancer patient will live and whether he or she will die from the disease depend on many factors, including whether the cancer is slow or fast growing, how much the cancer has spread in the body, whether effective treatments are available, the person’s overall health and more.

Will eating sugar make my cancer worse?

No. Although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse, or that if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear. However, a high-sugar diet may contribute to excess weight gain, and obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer.

Is cancer contagious?

No, cancer is not a contagious disease that easily spreads from person to person. In some people, cancers may be caused by certain viruses (some types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, for example) and bacteria (such as Helicobacter pylori). While a virus or bacterium can spread from person to person, the cancers they sometimes cause cannot spread from person to person.

Does my attitude – positive or negative – determine my risk of, or likely recovery from, cancer?

There is no scientific evidence that links a person’s “attitude” to his or her risk of developing or dying from cancer. If you have cancer, it’s normal to feel sad, angry or discouraged sometimes, and positive or upbeat at other times. People with a positive attitude may be more likely to maintain social connections and stay active, and physical activity and emotional support may help you cope with your cancer.

Can cancer surgery or a tumor biopsy cause cancer to spread in the body?

The chance that surgery will cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body is extremely low. Following standard procedures, doctors use special methods and take many steps to prevent cancer cells from spreading during biopsies or surgery to remove tumors. For example, if they must remove tissue from more than one area of the body, they use different surgical tools for each area.

Will cancer get worse if exposed to air?

No. Exposure to air will not make tumors grow faster or cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Do cell phones cause cancer?

No, not according to the best studies completed so far. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations, and cell phones emit a type of low-frequency energy that does not damage genes.

Are there herbal products that can cure cancer?

No. Although some studies suggest that alternative or complementary therapies, including some herbs, may help patients cope with the side effects of cancer treatment, no herbal products have been shown to be effective for treating cancer. In fact, some herbal products may be harmful when taken during chemotherapy or radiation therapy because they may interfere with how these treatments work. Cancer patients should talk with their doctor about any complementary and alternative medicine products – including vitamins and herbal supplements – they may be using.

Excerpted from the National Cancer Institute “Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions.” To learn more visit, www.cancer.gov.

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