It’s time to debunk some common cancer misconceptions
Cancer. It’s one of the most alarming words in the world of healthcare, and one people hope they never hear in the context of their health or a loved one’s. While the field of oncology has made leaps and bounds in advancing the prevention of and treatments for cancer, such as our CyberKnife technology, the general public is still often confounded about cancer.
We often find ourselves battling misinformation and myths about cancer, which can go a long way in scaring people about this disease. In order to help people understand the cancer facts, and the continually improving prospects of its treatment, I’d like to address some of the more common myths I hear about cancer.
1. Due to cancer genetics, I will get cancer if it runs in my family.
Among the most common cancer myths is this one: cancer by genetics. About 90-95 percent of cancer types are caused by the mutation of genes that happens over the course of a person’s life. The real cancer fact is that only 5-10 percent of cancer types are developed from a hereditary gene. However, it is very possible for an abnormal gene to be passed down through generations and not lead to cancer.
Sometimes, the reason that members of the same family develop the same type of cancer is because they are exposed to the same elements that could be destructive to their lifestyle. Examples of this destructive behavior that could lead to declining health, and put you at higher risk for cancer, include smoking, not working out or getting proper exercise, and eating an unhealthy, highly-processed diet.
2. Cancer does not run in my family, so I am not at risk of getting it.
Just because cancer does not run in someone’s family does not mean he or she is invincible. The cancer fact is that they are just about at as much risk as in the situation above where someone in the family does have cancer. Genes can become mutated throughout one’s lifespan resulting in cancer, and a person’s lifestyle and personal health can greatly vary from that of their relatives. Both can make a person the first one in their family to get cancer. About 40 percent of men and women will develop cancer throughout their lives. The reality is that most people who are diagnosed with cancer have no familial genetic connection to the condition.
3. Cancer is contagious.
No, cancer is not contagious. You will not acquire cancer from someone via physical contact, such as shaking hands or kissing. The only situation in which cancer can be contagious is in the event of an organ transplant; if the organ donor has a history with cancer, the organ receiver will be at risk for developing the same type of cancer. This is not very typical, but has happened in .02 percent of transplant cases. As a means of prevention, those who have a history of cancer are not usually allowed to donate organs.
4. If one gets cancer, it will always be terminal cancer.
With the advancement of treatment and the use of modern technology such as CyberKnife, the rates at which people are dying from cancer are decreasing. From 1991 to 2015, the combined cancer death rate for men and women declined by 26 percent. The earlier the cancer is detected, the more treatment options will be available and the greater chance of long-term survival. Oftentimes, types of cancers are discovered past the point of being completely cured. But treatment will still extend life and ease symptoms. With the continual research into cancer, the rates of survival from cancer will keep getting better and better.
5. Smoking is a main lung cancer cause, so if you don’t smoke, you won’t get it.
While smokers, and those exposed to second-hand smoke, have the highest chance of developing lung cancer, nonsmokers are also at risk due to other exposures and lifestyle factors. Air pollution and naturally-occurring radon gas are also contributing factors to the development of lung cancer. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the presence of radon gas in the air is responsible for roughly 20,000 cases of lung cancer in the United States per year. While cigarettes have a strong odor, you may not know when you’re in the presence of air pollution.
6. It’s a cancer fact that only older men can get prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is more common in older men, but younger men are also susceptible to it. It’s not uncommon for men as young as in their 40s to get diagnosed. Approximately 40 percent of people diagnosed with prostate cancer are under the age of 65. According to the American Cancer Society, men at high risk of prostate cancer (those with multiple family members who have been diagnosed) should begin getting prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests at the age of 40. If only one member of the family has had prostate cancer, men should get tested around 45, and someone who is at low risk (no familial connection) should begin getting tested at 50.
7. Having prostate cancer will ruin your sex life.
Sexual activity following prostate cancer treatment depends on multiple variables, including age, health prior to cancer and type of treatment. Though the exact amount of time it takes to regain normal erectile functioning varies, many prostate cancer patients return to their fully-functioning sexual state. Using CyberKnife as a treatment option will reduce the chance of sexual side effects, thanks to its accuracy that targets the cancerous tissue and avoids the surrounding healthy tissue. For any treatment option, younger age patients may have a better chance at making a quick, full erectile recovery.
8. There is a sugar and cancer connection.
To date, there have been no conclusive studies that have shown active cancer to worsen from the consumption of sugar, or lessen due to cutting out sugar. That being said, eating a high-sugar diet can lead to weight gain, diabetes and a myriad of other health issues, which could contribute to the development of cancer.