They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But when it comes to cancer – which affects roughly one in two men over the course of a lifetime – it’s what you think you know that could actually kill you. It’s time to correct five commonly held, but false beliefs about the big C.
MYTH: CELL PHONES AND ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS CAUSE CANCER.
TRUTH: Despite the chain email your great-aunt forwarded you, “there is absolutely no evidence at this time that any of these things are associated with human cancers,” says medical oncologist Dr Jack Jacoub.
So where’d the info even come from? Animal studies back in the 1970s linked artificial sweeteners to cancer, but the same findings didn’t pan out in humans. And though some studies have shown an association between cell phones and brain cancer, others have demonstrated none, and groups such as the World Health Organisation say there’s insufficient evidence to support any health harms.
Bottom line: To get the biggest bang for your cancer-prevention buck, try to focus on things that have been scientifically proven to reduce cancer risk, says Jacoub. Cut back on booze, quit smoking, eat more vegetables and keep your weight in check with plenty of exercise.
MYTH: PEOPLE WITH DARKER SKIN CAN’T GET SKIN CANCER.
TRUTH: Fair skin does boost your odds of developing both deadly melanoma and other types of skin cancer. But there is no hue that grants you immunity from the disease, says dermatologist Dr Joshua Fox – especially if you fail to take preventive measures.
Olive-skinned patients and even their doctors can miss the warning signs of skin cancer, which sometimes appear in often-overlooked places, such as under the nails or on the palms, soles of the feet and mucus membranes around the mouth, eyelid and genitals. As a result, they’re often diagnosed at later stages, when cancers have become more difficult to treat.
MYTH: EXCESS FAT AFFECTS YOUR HEART, BUT NOT YOUR CANCER RISK.
TRUTH: According to the Cancer Council, extra kilograms weigh into as many as 1 in 5 cancer deaths. Being too heavy increases your risk of colorectal, kidney, pancreatic, gallbladder, thyroid and prostate cancers, among others. And it may also worsen your prognosis if you do get sick.
This might be because fat guys have more than their share of inflammation. And that may turn normal cells cancerous by altering their DNA or flipping the balance between the rate new cells form and old ones die off. Compounds released by fat cells, including oestrogen, adipokines and insulin-like growth factor can do the same thing, Jacoub says.
What’s more, obesity often goes hand-in-hand with a diet high in harmful fats and low in cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables – a carcinogenic double-whammy, says urologist Dr Scott Shelfo.
MYTH: CANCER CAN NEVER SPREAD FROM PERSON TO PERSON.
TRUTH: True, you can’t catch cancer from someone else who has it. But some cancer-causing viruses most definitely qualify as contagious. In fact, over the last decade or so, human papillomavirus (HPV) has dramatically changed the demographic of people coming down with mouth and throat cancers, says oncologist Dr Robert Haddad.
These cancers were once reserved for older smokers and heavy drinkers, but as many as 70 percent of them can now be attributed to HPV infection. The virus spreads during oral sex and can cause cancer years later, like when men hit their 40s and 50s.
Most people who have had sex eventually contract at least one strain of HPV, but the majority won’t turn into cancer, Haddad says.
MYTH: GETTING A 'BASE TAN' PROTECT S YOU FROM SKIN CANCER.
TRUTH: It’s time to banish the phrase “healthy glow,” Fox says. Skin darkened by UV rays, whether from the sun or a tanning bed, has already sustained damage that contributes to cancer risk. That’s not to mention wrinkles, dull skin, sagging, brown spots and other signs of ageing.
Plus, that baseline bronzing provides you with only minimal sun protection, equivalent to an SPF of 3, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even a single sunburn boosts your odds of deadly melanoma, Fox says.
Sunscreen is a vital step, but should serve as a secondary strategy. Start by minimising your time under the sun between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV rays beam strongest.