Cancer: Misconceptions versus the facts
Grace Wachira @yaa_grace
We cower when we hear cancer. It reads almost like a death sentence. We make our conclusions about it and sometimes, resign ourselves to it. Sadly the myths and misconceptions cloud the truth. Dr Adarsh Chandramouleswar, who has practiced clinical oncology for 10 years helps demystify some.
1. Cancer can be transmitted from mother to baby or person to person
It is assumed cancer can be passed on to a child during pregnancy. “There are no studies to show what a mother eats causes cancer in the child she is carrying. Whatever a mother ingests is not necessarily all passed on to the baby.
There is barrier that ensures a baby receives what they need,” he said. Even then certain medicines have been found to cause cancer in children.“Those drugs have, however, been withdrawn from the market. All in all, cancer is not transmittable.
2. Cancer is not curable
The opposite is true in some cancer cases as Adarsh explained. “60-70 per cent of cancers are indeed curable. The most common cancers we see; breast, cervical in women and prostrate in men are very curable cancers. They have positive outcomes once they are treated.
A very small percentage with aggressive tumors may not be curable but cure is now possible in many of the cancer cases especially if they are detected in early stages. “Testicular cancer that may spread to the lungs, in stage four has also been proven curable so, not all cancers are death sentences and even those that have no cure, are manageable.”
Cancers even in stage four like breast cancer, colon cancer or prostate cancer are manageable. They are termed as chronic diseases and are controllable.
3. Cancer is a result of black magic
This is a common misconception. Dr Adarsh has witnessed patients and their families classify the condition as the work of black magic.
“There is no single reason for the development of cancer and that is why we say it is caused by multiple risk factors. You could do a random observation and see in some families, some children do not have cancer and one might and that could point towards a child or someone being exposed to some of these factors,” he said.
Exposure to certain elements in some regions however, could contribute to cancer. “Radiation amounts propagate genetic mutations that could cause cancer.
Obesity, lack of exercise, an imbalanced diet and our sedentary lifestyles; smoking and alcohol intakes, however contribute a great deal to different types of cancers.”
4. Breast cancer is caused by deodorants and perfumes
There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim, Dr David Kimani, a general and urologist surgeon says.
“Researchers found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or underarm shaving. Probably, in general, younger women are more likely than older women to shave their underarms and use antiperspirants, whether or not they develop breast cancer later,” he noted.
For instance, most women born in the 1950s and 1960s might have started shaving earlier and using antiperspirants more often than women born in the 1930s and 1940s. Many women may also shave and use antiperspirants less often as they get older.
These are more likely explanations of the researcher’s findings than the suggestion that these practices cause cancer. Of note, the study asked about underarm products that the women were using at the time the questions were answered, not what they used before they developed breast cancer. This is also the positional statement of American Cancer Society.
5. Positive thoughts dispel cancer
There’s no scientific proof that a positive attitude gives you an advantage to improve your chance of being cured of cancer. “A positive attitude will, however, improve the quality of life during cancer treatment and beyond.
It is a fact that religion and spiritual values are important for people to cope with cancer,” Dr Kimani said. Having a positive attitude does not alter the cancer biology.
6. Surgery propagates cancer
“This is a myth,” Dr Kimani observes. The role of surgery in cancer is in diagnosis, cure or palliation either alone or with other treatment modalities. This can happen at any stage of the disease.
“A patient presenting early is often amenable to curative surgery. Those presenting with locally-advanced or metastatic cancer are often offered palliative treatments aimed at improving length and quality of life,” he continued.
When these patients succumb to their disease relatives and friends will attribute the demise to the recent intervention (diagnostic or palliative surgery), hence the myth.
7. Cancer treatment kills
This is perhaps one of the greatest myths. Before any new medical intervention is brought as an option of care, there is considerable research to establish that the intervention is better than none or another intervention.
“This is achieved through clinical trials that often blind the practitioners to eliminate bias. Of course, there are toxicities that emanate from the intervention (surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy) but often these will be less harmful than no intervention at all.
Cancer kills depending on the stage and type of cancer. Some are indolent while others are very aggressive,” Dr Kimani explained.
8. There is a miracle cure
A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being (especially a deity), magic, a miracle worker, a saint, or a religious leader.
“A cure is a means of healing or restoring to health; remedy, method or course of remedial treatment, as for disease. To prove a cure, you must define/diagnose the disease and then review after an intervention to determine the disappearance of the disease.
To borrow from the Bible Jesus when he turned water into wine required his subjects to fill the pots with water themselves, and then taste the wine as proof of the miracle.
9. Super foods prevent/cure cancer
“The so-called super foods are generally rich in antioxidants, specific nutrients (which vary from food to food) which may lead to certain health benefits; note the term may,” Angela Andago, a food scientist and nutrition lecturer cited.
Examples include dark green leafy vegetables rich in fibre, folate and carotenoids. “The main emphasis is to promote long-term healthy behaviours and diet and should starts from childhood”.