The most common cancer myths and misconceptions

In the first of our myth series, we look at myths and misconceptions associated with cancer itself

cancer myths

Cancer isn’t contagious but bad information can be. We look at some of the most common myths about cancer:

Is cancer is contagious?

No, it is not. You cannot catch cancer by touching or being in a room with someone who has cancer. There are some viruses, however, that can lead to specific cancers (the Human Papillomavirus can lead to cervical and rectal cancer), and these viruses can be spread. Vaccines are available to help prevent you getting these viruses, but it is best to speak to your doctor first about vaccinations.

Will I die from cancer?

A difficult question, and one that cannot be answered by this article. Mortality from cancer was once very high as surgery was the only treatment for solid tumours. But since the discovery of anaesthesia, radiotherapy, antibiotics and chemotherapy, cancers that were previously untreatable are now curable. In the United States, five-year survival rates for all cancers have doubled in the last 60 years thanks to these medical advances.

No one in my family has had cancer. Therefore I won’t get cancer.

Sadly this is not true. Cancer is non-discriminatory, meaning anyone can get cancer. There are factors, though, that can decrease or increase your chances of getting cancer (these are called risk factors). Many of these risk factors you may already know, such as smoking, body weight and sun exposure, but there some that are less common that can increase your risk, such as asbestos exposure. Getting regular medical checkups is one way you can discuss with your nurse or doctor your risk factors and ways to help you reduce them.

My family member has cancer. Therefore, I will get cancer.

Not necessarily. The area that looks at whether you pass your traits onto your children is called genetics. Genetic research has shown that your risk of getting some cancers are increased if a family member is diagnosed, but it is not a guarantee. There are blood tests that can be done to see if you have genes that increase your risk of cancer. Some doctors and nurses specialise in cancer and genetics. If you are concerned about your family’s risk, ask your doctor if you can be referred to speak to one of these specialists.

I felt a lump, I must have cancer.

Lumps and bumps are not necessarily cancer. If you do find a new lump or bump, the best thing you can do is get it checked out by your GP or practice nurse. They will be able to give you more information as to what the lump is and whether you need any further tests or be referred to an oncologist.

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