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Dealing With False Beliefs About Causes of Cancer

Carola is a breast cancer survivor. She writes about health, chronic illness, and disabilities.

cancer cells

cancer cells

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, I was amazed at how the people around me reacted to the news. Suddenly, they asked me some strange questions about my diet and lifestyle. What was I eating? Was I exercising? It made me feel guilty – as if they were trying to blame me for developing cancer. I also have heard many different theories about what causes cancer.

When I research health topics as a writer, I come across some intriguing headlines in the media about foods or devices that claim to cause cancer (carcinogens). Every once in a while, a friend or a follower on my social media pages would post a long rant, photo, or image about how some object, substance, or food causes cancer. After I stop slapping my cheek in disbelief at the fake news, I believe that many people have strange misconceptions and false beliefs about the causes of this disease.

Myths About Causes Of Cancer

I have put together a list of common myths about cancer causes that I have encountered on the Internet.

Cancer Is Contagious

I feel sad when some people recoiled after learning about my diagnosis. Cancer does not spread to others. People who have or are survivors need supportive friends who are not afraid and are willing to spend time with us.

Certain Foods and Pesticides Are Carcinogenic

Studies have shown that consuming low levels of pesticides are basically safe. High levels may slightly increase the risk of certain cancers.

Claims that certain foods cause cancer are often not backed up by scientific evidence. However, an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that elevate cancer risk.

Deodorants and Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer

Some reports suggest that products containing parabens, aluminum compounds, and other substances may be harmful to the skin or the body. There is no conclusive evidence, however, that these products cause breast cancer, says the National Cancer Institute and other researchers.

Microwaving Releases Harmful, Carcinogenic Substances

Some people believe that using a microwave will release harmful material that will cause cancer. Containers that are labeled as microwave-safe containers, however, should be fine. Anything that is not labeled as microwave-safe may leech chemicals into food while being microwaved, but there is no scientific evidence so far that these chemicals are carcinogenic.

Sugar Promotes the Growth Of Cancer Cells

The Mayo Clinic states that cancer cells are not affected by sugar intake. Sugar does not speed up cancer cell growth when ingested. However, there is evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar can increase the risk of certain cancers.

Good People Do Not Get Cancer

I found this myth listed by the Mayo Clinic a little hard to believe, but apparently, some people and certain cultures do believe that this disease is a punishment for bad thoughts or actions. Good thing this is not true because otherwise, I might be in trouble.

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How To Spot Fake News

As a cancer survivor, I have a vested interest in protecting myself from a re-occurrence of this devastating disease. I have developed a strategy for separating the fake from the true in news items about possible causes of cancer. I ask the following questions.

Who Is The Source Of The Information?

When I read a headline that appears fake on the Internet, I look at the source. If I am not familiar with the name of the website, I will search its name on the Internet. A few pages may appear in the browser results that identify it as a fake news source or an unreliable source of Information.

Celebrity endorsement does not necessarily guarantee accurate health info. Some websites falsely state that a celebrity is endorsing their website or products to give themselves credibility. Famous people such as Dr. Oz often publicly refute false claims that they are endorsing other health websites.

What Is the Scientific Evidence That Backs Up The Claims?

Fake websites tend to cloak the lack of reliable research in sensational claims and dubious testimonials. I need proof from respected sources before I will believe certain news stories.

What Do Other News Stories Say About the Claims?

For every fake news story, there are probably several other articles on the Internet that dispute the false information. Researching the topics in question helps me discern the difference between true and fake news.

Why Are They Sharing This Info?

Websites and media outlets often make money from advertising revenue. With some programs such as Google Adsense, the more views websites get in highly competitive cyberspace, the more money they make. Websites and news sources may sometimes exaggerate, sensationalize, or mislead people to increase the number of visitors viewing their web pages. Other websites also use scare tactics and outrageous claims about causes cancer to sell products such as herbal remedies and supplements.

I suspect that some websites are spreading fake news to create false fears and pandemonium. I am not sure what motivates them – perhaps they get a perverse pleasure out of scaring people.

True Causes of Cancer

While there are still unknown reasons why certain people get cancer, there are some causes that have been identified by the medical community:

  • Genetics
  • gene mutation
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Radiation exposure (i.e. the sun)
  • Viral and other infections
  • Smoking

Environmental factors such as pollution and chemical contamination have also been linked to cancer. An example of these factors causing this disease was shown in the award-winning movie, Erin Brockovich. The story is a dramatization of the true story of Erin Brockovich, who discovered a connection between high rates of cancer and water contamination from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

I believe that people need to stop focusing on sensational fake news and turn to reliable sources of information on cancer causes and risk factors. As a cancer survivor, I encourage everyone to learn everything they can about the causes of this awful disease and make whatever lifestyle changes are necessary to reduce their risk of getting cancer.

I believe that people should not fear this illness and believe the latest rumor about how people get it. Instead, I encourage people to investigate news on this disease before clicking on the ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ button on social media. Medical professionals and researchers are making incredible discoveries about possible causes and treatments every day. Cancer survivors like me can have the hope of living longer and avoiding recurrence of the condition.

References:

Cancer causes: Popular myths about the causes of cancer, Mayo Clinic
Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions, National Cancer Institute
How to Prevent Cancer or Find It Early, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Belief in fake causes of cancer is rife, Cancer Research UK

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2018 Carola Finch

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