Cancer: Myths & Facts

Routine blood tests can detect cancer.

Although there are a few blood tests that may detect specific types of cancer, there is no one blood test that will detect all cancers. Blood tests done at a routine checkup may be able to detect problems in a specific organ, such as kidneys or bones, but cannot determine what the problem is without additional tests such as CT or PET scans. The presence of cancer can't be confirmed without getting a piece of tissue to look at under a microscope.

Cancer is one disease that "behaves" in a certain way all the time.

Actually, cancer includes over 200 different diseases. Each can have many different causes. Some are more responsive to treatment than others. Some are curable even when they have spread and others are not very sensitive to treatment, including many lung cancers. Treatments are different depending on the type and stage of cancer. Despite advances in diagnosis and treatment, we still have much to learn about what causes cells to change and become cancerous, and why some people respond better to treatment than others.

Doing a biopsy of a tumor causes cancer to spread.

There is no scientific evidence that tumor biopsies (cutting it out or using a needle) cause cancer cells to spread (metastasize).

Exposing a tumor to air during surgery causes cancer to spread.

Surgery is one of our most important treatments for cancer. It can't cause cancer to spread. It is possible, if there are large and small tumors, that removing the larger tumor may stimulate the smaller cancers to grow. Still, removing the tumor surgically is often the most important treatment and should not be refused because of this myth.

Cancer is always painful.

While many advanced cancers do cause pain by putting pressure on surrounding organs and nerves, some cancers never cause pain. Most cancer pain can now be controlled so it doesn't interfere with daily activities. Cancer patients who have severe pain need to talk to their health care professionals.

If you are meant to get cancer you will, regardless of what you do.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that cancers that can be prevented or detected earlier by screening account for at least half of all new cancer cases. Smoking alone accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths. The ACS also estimates that about one-third of the cancer deaths this year will be related to overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and nutrition - making these cancers preventable.

Most cancer is inherited. If there is no history of a particular cancer in your family, you are not at risk.

Only about 5-10% of cancers are known to be inherited. Most are sporadic, occurring when there is no family history.

Artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

The artificial sweetener cyclamate was banned in 1969 because it was suspected of causing bladder cancer. Studies have not demonstrated that it causes cancer. Research also suggests there is no link between the use of the artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame and cancer. These substances are regulated by the FDA.

Fluoridated water causes cancer.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention summarized extensive research findings and concluded that studies to date have produced "no credible evidence" of an association between fluoridated drinking water and an increased risk for cancer.

The risk of dying from cancer in the United States is increasing.

Overall cancer death rates in 2004 compared with 1990 in men and 1991 in women decreased by 18.4% and 10.5% respectively, resulting in the avoidance of over a half million deaths from cancer during this time interval.

Getting a tan from the sun or a tanning booth will provide protection from skin cancer.

Any tanning, in the sun or in a tanning booth, without protection increases the risk for skin cancer.

A CA-125 screening can detect cancer in the same ways
as a PSA test.

A CA-125 screening is in no way the same as the PSA test. The PSA test is the only tumor marker (protein made by a tumor) that is specific and sensitive enough to be used for screening - and that is only if it is combined with a digital rectal exam.

Breast Cancer: Myths and Facts

A woman has little or no risk of breast cancer if she has no family history of breast cancer.

More than 75% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Simply being female puts all women at risk.

Breast cancer does not occur in young women.

The risk of breast cancer increases with age and is more common in women over 50, but it can, and does, occur in women of all ages.

An injury to the breast can cause breast cancer.

Cancer is not caused by hurting or bruising the breast. However, when a cancer is already present, it may be detected when a women touches her breast after an injury.

Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.

Neither the National Cancer Institute nor the FDA has found any link between the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the development of breast cancer.

Cancer cannot be found unless a lump is felt.

Mammography can detect early cancers before a lump can be felt.

Mammography is painful and can harm the breast.

During a mammography, the breast is compressed. Although this can be uncomfortable, it is not harmful to the breast and is usually not painful. Scheduling the mammogram after the menstrual period, when the breasts are less tender, will reduce the discomfort. Additionally, the radiation given off by current mammography is extremely low.

Breast cancer will always be painless.

Most early breast cancers do not hurt, however some are associated with unusual sensations in the breast including soreness or burning.

Most lumps in the breast are cancer.

Most breast lumps are NOT cancer, but it's important to obtain a definite diagnosis instead of assuming that a lump is harmless.

If the mammography report comes back as "negative" there is nothing else to worry about.

Mammograms do not show 10-15% of breast cancers. Any suspicious mass should be investigated further.

Most women who get breast cancer die.

There are over 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today.

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Inpatient Cancer Unit, 5th Floor Hospital

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Outpatient Cancer Center, 5th Floor Hospital