Myths about developing cancerMYTH: Cancer is contagious.No cancer is contagious (capable ofspreading from person to person throughcontact). However, some cancers are causedby viruses. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)is a sexually transmitted disease thatincreases the risk of developing cervical,anal, and some types of head and neckcancers. Other viruses, such as hepatitis Band hepatitis C, which are transmitted byinfected intravenous needles and sexualactivity, increase the risk of developing livercancer.
MYTH: You don’t need to worry aboutcancer if no one in your family has hadit.Only 5% to 10% of cancers arehereditary (passed down by a familymember). The majority of cancers arecaused by genetic changes that occurthroughout a person’s lifetime. Thesechanges, or mutations, are caused byfactors such as tobacco use, too muchultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun,and exposure to certain chemicals.However, the likelihood that a singlemutation will cause cancer is small.That is one reason why cancer is morecommon in older people—a number ofmutations have had the chance to buildup throughout their life. Learn moreabout risk factors and prevention.
MYTH: If you have a family history ofcancer, you will get it too; there’snothing you can do about it.Although having a family history ofcancer increases your risk of developingthe disease, it is not a definite predictionof your future health. In fact, anestimated 4 out of 10 cancers can beprevented by making simple lifestylechanges, such as eating a balanced diet,maintaining a healthy weight, exercising,limiting alcoholic beverages, andavoiding tobacco products. Additionally,doctors may recommend that somepeople who have inherited a geneticmutation that puts them at high risk forcancer have surgery or take medication,known as prophylactic treatment, tofurther reduce the chance that cancerwill develop. Learn more about cancergenetics and hereditary cancer-relatedsyndromes.
MYTH: Hair dyes and antiperspirantscan cause cancer.To date, there is no conclusive scientificevidence that these items increase therisk of developing cancer. Some studieshave suggested that hair dyes usedbefore 1980 could be linked to anincreased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but the unsafechemicals have since been removedfrom hair dye products. There is limitedand inconsistent evidence that hair dyecan increase the risk of other types ofcancer. Additionally, there is someevidence that the skin may absorb thealuminum-based compounds that act asthe active ingredient in antiperspirants.These compounds are known to causehormonal changes, which has led someto believe that antiperspirants couldcontribute to the development of breastcancer. However, there is no consistentevidence to support this claim.
Myths about coping with cancerMYTH: It is sometimes easier toremain unaware that you have cancer.You should not ignore the symptomsor signs of cancer, such as a breastlump or an abnormal-looking mole.Although the thought of having canceris frightening, talking with your doctorand getting a diagnosis will give youthe power to make informed choicesand seek the best possible care.Because treatment is typically moreeffective during the early stages ofcancer, being diagnosed earlyimproves the likelihood of survival.
MYTH: Positive thinking will cure cancer.Although a positive attitude may improveyour quality of life during cancertreatment, there is no scientific evidencethat it can cure cancer. Placing suchimportance on attitude may lead tounnecessary guilt and disappointment if,for reasons beyond your control, yourhealth does not improve.
MYTH: If you are diagnosed with cancer,you will probably die.Cancer is not a death sentence. Advancesin cancer detection and treatment haveincreased survival rates for most commontypes of cancer. In fact, more than 60% ofpeople with cancer survive five years ormore after their initial diagnosis. Learnmore about cancer survivorship.
MYTH: Cancer is always painful.Although pain is one of the most commonside effects of cancer and its treatment, upto 95% of cancer pain can be successfullytreated with medications and other painmanagement techniques. However, inorder to benefit from these pain-reliefstrategies, you must share your symptomswith a member of your health care team.Learn more about managing and treatingcancer pain.
Myths about cancer treatmentsMYTH: Drug companies, thegovernment, and the medicalestablishment are hiding a cure forcancer.The medical community is notwithholding a miracle treatment. Thefact is, there will not be a single cure forcancer. Hundreds of types of cancer exist,and they respond differently to varioustypes of treatment. In the past five years,research has shown that even commoncancers like breast cancer and lungcancer contain many more geneticchanges than originally thought, whichmakes it even more challenging to comeup with effective treatments. There is stillmuch to learn, which is why clinical trialscontinue to be essential for makingprogress in preventing, diagnosing, andtreating cancer.
MYTH: Some people are too old forcancer treatment.There is no age limit for cancertreatment. People with cancer shouldreceive the treatment that is bestsuited to their condition, regardless ofage. Many older patients respond aswell to cancer treatments as youngerpatients. However, some older adultsmay have other illnesses that limit theuse of specific treatments, so olderadults with cancer are encouraged totalk with their doctor about the bestapproach for managing their disease.Read more about cancer treatment forolder adults.
MYTH: Cancer treatment is usually worsethan the disease.Although cancer treatments such aschemotherapy and radiation therapy areknown to cause side effects that can beunpleasant and sometimes serious, recentadvances have resulted in manychemotherapy drugs and radiationtreatments that are much better toleratedthan in the past. As a result, symptoms likesevere nausea and vomiting, hair loss, andtissue damage are much less common thesedays; however, managing side effectsremains an important part of cancer care.This approach, called palliative or supportivecare, can help a person at any stage of illness.In fact, people who receive both treatmentfor the cancer and treatment to ease sideeffects at the same time often have lesssevere symptoms, better quality of life, andreport they are more satisfied withtreatment. Learn more about palliative care.
MYTH: People being treated for cancer can’tstay at home, work, or participate in theirusual activities.Most people living with cancer are treated intheir home community on an outpatientbasis (with periodic appointments at ahospital or clinic rather than an overnightstay at a hospital) and often continue withsome or all of their day-to-day activities.Many people can work part-time or full-time,care for their children, and attend socialactivities, despite undergoing cancertreatment.
MYTH: Everyone with cancer has to be treated.If a cancer is found at an early stage, is growingslowly, and your doctor feels treating thecancer would cause more discomfort than thedisease, your doctor may recommend activesurveillance (also known as watchful waiting).During active surveillance, the cancer ismonitored closely. If it starts growing or beginscausing symptoms, starting treatment is usuallyan option.
MYTH: If I’m not offered all of the tests,procedures, and treatments available, I amnot getting the best cancer care.Not every test, treatment, or procedure isright for every person. You and your doctorshould discuss which ones will increase yourchance of recovering and help you maintainthe best quality of life and which ones couldincrease your risk of side effects and lead tounnecessary costs. If you decide after thisdiscussion that you need more informationbefore making treatment decisions, it may behelpful to seek a second opinion.