On World Cancer Day, save a life – dispel a cancer myth

January 31, 2014 | by

Cancer myths should be debunked at every chance possible, not just on World Cancer Day 2014. But with this year's observance devoted specifically to dispelling misconceptions about the disease, it's a fine place to start.

Cancer treatment

"There's nothing I can do about cancer" is one of the most persistent cancer myths. In fact, the right treatment matters.

First, let's dispense with four of the most-common cancer myths.

  • We don’t need to talk about cancer.
  • Cancer … There are no signs or symptoms.
  • There is nothing I can do about cancer.
  • I don’t have the right to cancer care.

These statements – all patently untrue – are firmly held beliefs for many people. They interfere with cancer detection and cancer treatment and, in doing so, shorten the duration and quality of life for those ultimately diagnosed with the disease.

Their continued existence frustrates physicians, nurses and health care workers everywhere and has given rise to the theme behind World Cancer Day 2014, also known as Feb. 4.

But those myths are far from isolated. They're accompanied by a plethora of misconceptions, untruths and wishful thinking connected to cancer care – and they all do damage.

The following are 10 of the more frustrating, almost painful, myths encountered by Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology at City of Hope:

1. "A diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence."

2. "If I have cancer, I'm cursed by God." And the corollary: "God is going to get me out of this mess." Cancer is not a curse, and patients must take charge of their own treatment plan.

3. "All chemotherapy has dreadful side effects and is not worth it."

4. "I'm 80 years old and how much time do I have anyway?" This may be a legitimate question sometimes, Stein said, but many times, there's plenty of time left.

5. For women: "If I have a mastectomy, my partner won't love me anymore."

6. For men: "If I lose my potency, my partner won't love me anymore."

7. "I did something to cause my cancer." That belief can be true sometimes, Stein said, pointing out the clear connection between smoking and lung cancer. But most of the time, he said, it's absolutely false.

8. "If I enroll in a clinical trial, that makes me a guinea pig."

9. "I like you personally, doctor, but I don't trust the system. The pharmaceutical companies are all dishonest, and the doctors don't really want to cure cancer – how then could they make a living?"

10. "I can control the progression of my cancer by a) thinking intensely; b) taking daily coffee enemas; c) going to a clinic in Mexico for 'alternative' cancer treatments; d) taking megadoses of vitamins; e) living a 'natural lifestyle'; or f) all of the above."

Stein has heard all of these and more in his years as a medical oncologist. He and other cancer specialists at City of Hope do what they can to dispel these myths. But they need help.

On World Cancer Day, and every day, help dispel a cancer myth.

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For more facts about cancer risks, symptoms and treatments, go to the City of Hope website at www.cityofhope.org.