5 Common Cancer Myths Debunked

March 5, 2018

The internet can be an extremely useful tool for people seeking information on specific healthcare topics like cancer. And while there is a lot of data out there to be read, it is important to keep in mind that not all online sources offer reliable information. We’ve come a long way when it comes to understanding cancer--yet many myths and misconceptions continue to leave people confused and searching for answers. Busting these cancer myths, and learning more about what has actually been proven, is a great way to get people closer to truly understanding this complex group of diseases known as cancer.

Here are 5 commonly held myths about cancer:

Myth: Antiperspirants and deodorants cause cancer.

Fact: Although scientists have suggested a possible connection between cancer and the use of antiperspirants and deodorants, there is no concrete scientific evidence to back it up. Some research suggests that aluminum-based compounds, which are found in antiperspirants, may be absorbed by the skin and have estrogen-like (hormonal) effects that can promote the growth of cancer cells--specifically, breast cancer cells. Parabens, which are preservatives used in a variety of products, including antiperspirants and deodorants, have also been suggested to mimic the activity of estrogen in cells. At this time, however, no studies to date have confirmed the effects of aluminum or parabens putting people at a higher risk for cancer.

Myth: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

Fact: Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are substances that are used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. While there are several artificial sweeteners on the market, the more commonly known ones include saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, which you probably know as Sweet ‘N LowⓇ, EqualⓇ, and SplendaⓇ.

Throughout the years, many studies have been conducted on both humans and rats. Some studies showed an effect on rats, while others did not. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, no studies on humans concluded that these sweeteners cause cancer or pose any threat to human health.

Consuming too much sugar or sugar substitute of any kind can cause you to gain weight, which can certainly put you at a higher risk for cancer. The best prevention is to watch your weight by focusing on foods that are proven to reduce your risk and are not high in sugar.

Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.

Fact: Breast tissue has a naturally bumpy texture, so if you feel a lump, don’t panic. Often times, lumps are not breast cancer, but rather something less serious like a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, if the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it’s probably normal breast tissue. If it feels harder or different from the rest of the breast, it is best to get it checked. While some lumps may go away on their own, others could get worse. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to conduct self-exams and schedule regular screenings with your doctor.

Myth: Mammograms can cause cancer to spread.

Fact: Although the radiation you are exposed to during a mammogram can increase the risk of breast cancer over time, the increased risk is very small. The National Cancer Institute states that the benefits of mammography nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. At this time, mammograms remain the standard for early breast cancer detection in women ages 40 and older.

Myth: You’re more likely to get cancer if a family member gets cancer.

Fact: Not necessarily. While it’s true that cancer is caused by harmful changes (mutations) in genes, only 5-10% of cancers are related to a hereditary genetic mutation. Most cancers occur due to mutations that build up throughout a person’s lifetime--typically, as a result of aging and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, not wearing sunscreen, poor food choices, and not maintaining a healthy weight. Exposure to certain chemicals at work or home can also cause mutations.

Cancer can be scary but knowledge is power. This isn’t a guarantee that you’ll never develop cancer, but you’re giving yourself the best chance possible when you know the facts and follow a healthy lifestyle.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding cancer. If you’re in the Portland-Vancouver area, the cancer specialists at Compass Oncology are here to answer any other questions that you may have regarding cancer, including your genetic risk or non-genetically related risk for developing cancer.