Does standing next to the microwave give you cancer? How about the Splenda in your favorite diet drink? Will eating loads of kale and blueberries prevent cancer? There is a lot of misinformation floating around in popular culture about the causes of and treatments for cancer. We figure a cancer diagnosis is stressful enough without patients and caregivers having to battle folklore about the disease, as well. Here we tackle the top five cancer myths we’ve encountered.
1. Eating sugar makes cancer worse
Our body converts pretty much all the carbohydrates we consume to glucose, fructose and other simple sugars. All cells, cancerous or not, use glucose for energy. Because cancer cells are fast-growing compared with healthy cells, they have a high demand for this fuel. There is no evidence, however, that eating sugar makes cancer worse or that eliminating sugar will shrink cancer tumors. Sugar does not “feed” cancer cells as some myths have suggested.
There is a link between obesity and an increased risk of developing several types of cancer. And high-sugar foods can contribute to excessive weight gain. So, the occasional ice cream cone or chocolate nut brownie will not cause cancer, but maintaining a healthy weight and a consuming a well-balanced diet is best for overall health, including lowering your cancer risk. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, fiber, white meat and fish are healthy diet staples. Too much fat, salt, sugar, red or processed meat and alcohol should be consumed in moderation.
2. If someone in my family has cancer, I will get it, too
Not necessarily true.
Only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations and are considered hereditary cancers. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of cancers are caused by mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime because of aging and exposure to environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke and radiation.
If multiple members of a family are exposed to the same risk factors — they smoke or work in a carcinogenic environment, for example — they do increase the likelihood of developing the same cancer. However, all people exposed to those risks have the same likelihood of developing a particular cancer and family ties are not the cause.
3. Cell phones waves and power lines cause cancer
Studies completed so far do not indicate a link between cancer and cell phone usage. Cancer is caused by genetic mutations and cell phones emit a type of low-frequency energy that does not damage genes.
Power lines emit both electric and magnetic energy. The electric energy emitted by power lines is easily shielded or weakened by walls and other objects. The magnetic energy emitted by power lines is a low-frequency form of radiation that does not damage genes.
4. Superfoods and herbal remedies can cure cancer
We are going to break the news to you here — there is no such thing as a ‘superfood’. It’s marketing hype. Blueberries, walnuts, beetroot, broccoli, garlic, green tea and other ‘super’ identified foods do have healthful properties and can be part of healthy, balanced diet – but they will not cure or prevent cancer.
Herbs can have a role in cancer treatment, namely they may help patients cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. However, no herbal products have been shown effective in the treatment of any cancer. Some herbal products may even be harmful when taken during chemotherapy or radiation therapy because they may interfere with how these treatments work. Cancer patients should talk with their doctor about using any complementary and alternative medicine products, including vitamins and herbal supplements.
5. Cancer treatment kills more than it cures
Cancer treatment – whether chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery – is tough stuff. Treatment can be painful and have unpleasant side effects, but these methods are still our most effective tools for fighting cancer. Sometimes, depending on the staging of the cancer, these treatments can only serve to slow cancer and alleviate symptoms, but they are still our best options.
Surgery is still the most effective treatment we have for cancer, provided it’s diagnosed early enough for an operation to be done. And radiotherapy helps cure more people than cancer drugs. Yet chemotherapy and other cancer drugs have a very important role to play – in some cases helping to cure the disease, and in others helping to prolong survival.
The cancer death rate for both men and women in the United States has been trending downward over the past two decades. In men, the cancer death rate has dropped 1.8 percent per year over the last 10 years and 1.4 percent in women. Declines in death rates for female breast cancer, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancers are driving the overall decline in the cancer death rates in men and women.
While avoiding sugar and cell phones and eating superfood will not protect you from cancer, there are some proven ways to reduce your cancer risk. We’ve collected them here.
If you or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer, quality care in a comfortable, non-hospital setting is available from Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. With locations in Carson City, Stateline, Gardnerville and Fallon, convenient compassion ate care is close by. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Jorge Perez, call (775) 883-3336.