Cancer is arguably the most talked about and researched disease. This has given rise to much information, which is often inaccurate or worst dangerously misleading.
Check out some of the most popular myths about cancer stated below:
- Cancer is Usually a Death Sentence
The likelihood of dying from cancer has fallen steadily over the years. Five-year survival – i.e. post-detection of cancer – for certain cancers like breast, prostate and thyroid – now exceed 90%. Five-year survival rates for all cancers combined is about 66%. The results of this survey1 are based on findings in the United States and could vary across geographies.
Chances of surviving cancer are usually linked to a range of factors – whether the cancer is slow or fast growing, spread of cancer in the body, availability of effective treatments, patient’s overall health.
But there is no denying that a combination of drugs and therapy has dramatically improved chances of cancer survival or in the least prolonged life for patients.
- Cancer is Hereditary
Studies have shown that only 5%-10% of cancers are caused by harmful mutations inherited from a person’s parents. Families that have inherited cancer-causing mutation could see multiple family members develop the same type of cancer. These are the hereditary cancers that most people refer to, but they account for only 5% to 10% of cancers.
The remaining 90% to 95% of cancers are caused by mutations that occur over a person’s lifetime as a natural effect of aging and environmental factors like tobacco smoke and radiation. These are spontaneous or non-hereditary cancers. Even when a person with a family history has developed cancer it is not necessary for the cancer to be hereditary, it could belong to the second category.
According to some studies2, nearly 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Most of the cancers will be due to genetic changes caused by aging and environment and not hereditary reasons.
- ‘Superfoods’ Can Cure Cancer
There are many food items – beet root, blueberries, broccoli, green tea, garlic – among others that are projected as ‘superfoods’ when it comes to cancer prevention. There is more of a marketing element in promoting these food items than actual scientific evidence.
While such foods in various combinations as part of your diet can have long-term health benefits, promoting them as superfoods that can cure cancer all by themselves is misleading. Cancer is the result of years of exposure to harmful chemicals and radiation and the process it too complex, so it’s an oversimplification to claim that any one food or foods, alone, can have a major influence in preventing cancer. Your best bet to cut down on risk of cancer is by a series of long-term healthy behaviours such as keeping active, maintaining a healthy body weight, lowering alcohol intake and kicking the smoking habit.
- Cancer is Sheer Bad Luck
There was a study3 conducted on certain types of cancer that gained some publicity and the findings unfortunately were misinterpreted.
Without delving into the minutest details of the study – this is what it attempted to understand. Why certain types of cancers are more common than others? For instance, why bowel tissues witness higher incidence of cancer than brain tissues?
The study made the point statistically that there are sharp variations between how different types of cancer are caused and attributed it to statistics. The media not having understood the intent and the methodology took this to mean that cancer is caused by luck / chance.
It’s important to note that the study only aimed at proving why some cancers are more common than certain other cancers not why some cancers cases are more common than other cancer cases in the population. Cancer cases are still subject to underlying factors with lifestyle playing an important role. At least in certain cancers like breast cancer one cannot deny the role of lifestyle factors like a woman’s reproductive health, her weight after the menopause and alcohol consumption. On the other hand, prostate cancer is only weakly influenced by lifestyle.
So while there is an element of chance in how cells that are dividing perfectly well suddenly turn cancerous one day, it is also true that cancerous cells get a lot of help from lifestyle factors like chemicals in tobacco smoke as also ultra violet rays.
- Cancer Treatment Kills More than Cures
The moment one is afflicted with cancer there are some harsh truths to be faced. Reversing the effects of cancer is not easy. Cancer treatment – be it chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery – is not easy on the body. The side effects can be devastating. After all, treatments designed to remedy cancer cells inevitably affect healthy cells too.
Surgery is the most effective treatment for cancer, provided it’s diagnosed early enough for an operation to be done. And radiotherapy helps cure more people than cancer drugs. Chemotherapy and other cancer drugs have a very important part to play in cancer treatment – both in helping cure the disease and in helping prolong survival.
It may be that patients have to choose to opt for treatment aimed at reducing pain and symptoms rather than attempting to cure the disease. Balancing quality and quantity of life will always be a tough option for cancer patients that they must decide for themselves along with their family members.
While these were the more widely prevalent myths there are others like radiation effect of mobile phones and towers on the body. The mobile technology is too nascent to establish any long-term link between the (low) radiation caused by it and cancer. So the advice at this stage is to treat radiation from mobiles as one among many factors that may cause cancer over the long-term and nothing more.
However what is not a myth is cost of fighting cancer with cancer insurance. Based on the severity and the type, cancer treatment can costs anywhere between 3 lacs to 25 lacs. But now you can prepare yourself against Cancer financially at cost less than Rs 5/Day4.