11 myths about cancer, debunked

The internet is rife with misinformation about what does and doesn’t cause cancer, and how to treat the disease. We bust 11 of those myths.

When it comes to cancer, many myths get passed around by well-meaning friends and family members. Those myths often end up causing more stress for patients than they were already experiencing. Because understanding your diagnosis is an essential part of moving forward with your treatment plan, here are 11 myths about cancer, debunked:

Getting a biopsy makes cancer spread

“There’s absolutely no evidence that doing a biopsy or removing the cancer will make it spread,” said Issam Alawin, MD, Medical Oncologist at our Tulsa hospital.

When a tumor needs to be removed or tested, the process will not cause the cancer to grow. However, having it removed or tested is an important part of the treatment process.

Eating sugar causes cancer to grow

Eating a cookie or a piece of cake will not exacerbate your cancer.

“Although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

Having cancer doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the little treats you enjoy.

You won’t need surgery if the tumor is solid

“Surgery is always needed, if possible, with these solid tumors,” Dr. Alawin says.

Even if other forms of treatment are used to shrink solid tumors or lower the chances of the cancer returning, surgery is used to remove them.

Skin cancer is color blind

Those with fair skin have a greater risk of developing skin cancer than those who don’t. Additionally, those with blond or red hair, green or blue eyes, or easily-burnt or freckled skin, are at a higher risk as well.

Chemotherapy always has bad side effects

While awful side effects were common when chemotherapy was first introduced, medical advancement in recent decades has helped to lower the risk of harmful effects.

“We have a lot of good things that we do to reduce or even eliminate a lot of these side effects,” Dr. Alawin says.

A lump in your breast is always breast cancer

Finding a lump in your breast does not mean that you have breast cancer, but it should be checked by a doctor.

“Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer," according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. "But if you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored."

Chemotherapy is painful

Some patients fear their chemotherapy treatments will hurt them, but Dr. Alawin offers some reassurance.

“Is chemotherapy painful? The answer is no,” he says.

Although side-effects may result from chemotherapy, the actual infusion process or oral form of chemotherapy is not necessarily painful.

Pregnant women can’t get cancer treatment

Pregnant women who have symptoms or concerns about cancer should see their doctor right away, because getting early medical care may mean better outcomes for both mother and baby.

Women who are diagnosed with cancer while pregnant may still have options available to them.

Hair will never grow back after chemotherapy

While the image of a chemotherapy patient commonly involves someone with no hair, that isn't often a long-lasting state.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time it grows back whenever we finish or complete the course of chemotherapy," Dr. Alawin says. "Rarely, it can be permanent, but that is the exception and the unusual thing.”

Cancer will always come back

For the most part, in early stages— stage I and stage II—the chances of the cancer coming back is less likely.

Even in later stages, there is hope that it won’t return. Dr. Alawin says.

Oncologists don’t want patients trying unusual treatments

While some patients fear approaching their doctor with a natural treatment plan, that fear is unnecessary.

“Most of the time, oncologists and cancer doctors do not feel bad if the patient wants to try a complementary or unusual approach to treat cancer,” Dr. Alawin says.

As long as it won’t interfere with the chemotherapy or standard of cancer treatments, most oncologists don’t mind if a patient wants to try another type of care, such as herbs.

If you have questions about your cancer diagnosis or treatment, ask an expert oncologist, who can clear up misconceptions and help determine the right plan for you.

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