Cancer Myths

January 14, 2011

Information about cancer has never been more available and abundant at the click of a mouse.

True? False? Or somewhere in between?

Information about cancer has never been more available and abundant at the click of a mouse. But access comes with a price – the proliferationof myths, half-truths and misconceptions about one of the more prevalent health threats. Here is a look at the facts and fictions behind some of the widely-held beliefs about cancer.

1. Myth: Stress causes cancer

Fact: Partly true. Stress is not considered a direct cause of cancer, but stress does appear to affect how some tumors grow and spread. Recent studies support the theory of an indirect relationship between stress and cancer. Stress weakens the immune system, which results in irregular cell division activity inside the body.

Results of a study from the US-based MD Anderson Cancer Center provided evidence that the stress hormone adrenaline has a primary influence on the growth and spread of cancer, most notably for ovarian cancer. Increased adrenaline levels alter the healthy functioning of some cell proteins, a situation that causes malignant cells to grow
in size and spread faster.

2.  Myth: Cancer cannot be treated during its later stages

Fact: Not true. It's common knowledge that the earlier that cancer is detected, the better the chances of cancer treatment being effective. The truth of that maxim is evident in statistical improvements in benchmarks such as the five-year survival rate following cancer treatment.

Medical advances are having a positive impact on patients with later-stage cancers as well. Improvements in technology, innovations in procedures, and greater scientific knowledge have led to improvements in treating later-stage cancers, with more precise, less traumatic treatments giving new hope to cancer patients at every stage of the disease.

3. Myth: If your mother or father had cancer, you will too

Fact: Not necessarily true. Only about five to ten percent of cancers have a genetic link. While a family history of cancer is a known risk factor, the reality is that most types of cancer can be prevented. By taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle and reduce risky behaviors, even someone with cancer in his family history can significantly lower his own individual risk level (additional information can befound on page 20).

4. Myth: Cancer surgery stimulates tumor growth

Fact: False. There is no direct evidence to support the theory that cancer surgery causes tumor growth. The myth likely came about many years ago, at a time when technology was in its infancy and cancer was often first detected when it had already entered its later stages. When surgery was performed on late-stage patients, cancerous tumors were likely to have already spread to other organs and parts of the body; by this point, the tumors could not be safely removed during surgery.

Today there are many more and better treatment options – using advanced technologies for greater precision and less patient trauma – that are effective at destroying "bad" cells while making it harder for the disease to spread to other areas.
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