Some ideas on how cancer starts and spreads—though not scientifically proven—can seem logical, especially when those ideas are rooted in myths, which were not properly addressed. Regrettably, misconceptions about cancer can make a huge negative impact to both cancer patients and survivors.
In a society bound by discriminating traditions and feudal perceptions, it will take a lot of effort to improve knowledge of cancer and erase stigma among all communities. World Cancer Day can provide a huge platform to challenge preconceptions and negative assumptions that further perpetuate myths.
Let’s talk about cancer
When a person carries a mark that sets them apart, this can discredit them in the eyes of others and worse, threaten their well-being.
Through the years, cancer conveyed a stigma due to its association with death, and this manifested in ways that decreased people’s willingness to open up about cancer—even to the extent that patients’ diagnosis were not shared with them.
Get the facts
Cancer continues to pass on stigma in a considerably hefty amount and this is indeed worthy of attention. Communication, considered a solid platform for disseminating ideas, can be a great help in raising cancer awareness and decreasing cancer-related stigma.
Now, in order to strengthen the advocacy, we have to fully grasp the facts and analyze the preconceptions about the disease. Here’s a list of famous myths which continue to spread ‘fake news’:
1. Cancer could get spread if exposed to air
Cancer spreads through the body by invading nearby normal tissues. After growing into it, it will eventually move through walls of neighbor lymph nodes or blood vessels. With cancer traveling through the lymphatic system and bloodstream, it will consequently move to other parts of the body.
So no, exposure to air has nothing to do with cancer getting worse.
2. Using cellular phones can cause cancer
I understand why people are concerned that using cellphones can cause health problems. Because of the fact that cellular phones emit radiofrequency energy or radio waves, the tissues can absorb the energy.
But, again, it has nothing to do with cancer. Radiofrequency energy does not cause DNA damage that can lead to cancer; its only consistently observed biological effect in humans is tissue heating.
3. Herbal products can cure cancer
There are a lot of advertisements which suggest that ‘alternative medication’, including the use of herbal medicine, may help patients fight cancer and/or its side effects.
Scientists from the World Health Organization recently debunked this notion. According to the world-renowned organization, no herbal products have been shown to give a significant amount of relief for cancer patients therefore it is not effective for treating cancer. As a matter of fact, most herbal products can actually be harmful when taken during chemotherapy.
4. Is cancer hereditary?
People are sometimes worried that their family history of cancer means they are at higher risk of acquiring it. But only a small number of cancers are directly associated with family history. Just because someone in your family has cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get it too.
All types of cancer start when your genes enter harmful mutations. These cancers are called “non-hereditary” or “spontaneous” cancers. Inherited cancer are not really that common compared to cancers due to gene changes. Most cancers develop because of the inevitable changes in our environment and our lifestyle. Pollution, heavy smoking, and unhealthy consumption of food were recognized as predisposing factors for cancer.
5. Using hair dye can increase the risk of cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that hair dye use increases the risk of cancer. However, those whose occupation is related to hairdressing do have an increased risk of bladder cancer because of regular exposure to a significant amount of chemical products, which includes hair dye.
Debunking these myths is the first step in strengthening advocacy efforts and creating multi-sectoral partnerships for the benefit of the cancer patients and survivors. By becoming aware of the nature of the disease, we can increase cancer prevention measures, address the government’s lack of support and accountability, and help fight for access to affordable cancer treatment.
Moyer, A. (2017, August 1). Cancer and Stigma. Retrieved February 2, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-treatment/201708/cancer-and-stigma.
World Cancer Day. (2016). Retrieved January 02,2018, http://www.worldcancerday.org/materials.