Reality Check: 4 Myths About Cancer Doing More Harm Than Good

Too important to get it wrong.

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In order to live and grow, we rely on our bodies to replicate our cells faithfully. Though our cells have many ways of regulating this process, it doesn't always work perfectly. When certain cells replicate and grow uncontrollably, we call it cancer. 

Around the world, 14 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer every year. Because of this prevalence, it isn't surprising that there is a lot of misinformation going around about what cancer is and how it can be treated. This can be dangerous and cause people to make bad decisions about their treatments.

Here are four myths about cancer we need to stop repeating: 

Myth 1: "Cancer is one disease."

Cancer is not one disease, it's kind of a catchall term for more than 100 different diseases that involve uncontrolled cell growth. 

Though it doesn't sound particularly comforting, nearly every type of tissue in the body is capable of developing cancer and they all have different attributes that make that particular type of cancer unique. 

Depending on where the cancer is, it might not be possible to detect that something is wrong until the disease has already progressed. Certain tissues are more likely to respond to medication and treatment, while other areas of the body could make it easier for cancer to grow and spread. 

Even when dealing with one particular area of the body, such as the breasts, there are many different forms of cancerous growth that can occur. 

Myth 2: "There's a secret cancer cure out there that we're not allowed to know about."

Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture chemotherapy and other medications for cancer patients are often accused of withholding a cancer cure because there's more money to be made by keeping people sick. Not only is this highly offensive to the doctors working tirelessly to treat their patients and the scientists who are trying to develop new medications, it's just completely wrong.

There are studies that show certain medications or even something natural like vitamin C or cannabis oil killing aggressive cancer cells, but it's relatively easy to kill cancer in a petri dish. Cancer is much more difficult when treating a full person, let alone all of the ways different people can respond to the same medication.

Because there are so many different kinds of cancer, it is unrealistic to assume that there is one cure to rule them all. There isn't even a one-size-fits-all treatment for one specific type of cancer.

Thanks to these same pharmaceutical companies that are vilified, the five-year survival rates are up for all forms of cancer, with some of them nearing 100 percent. The likelihood of dying from cancer continues to decline, which is very encouraging.

Myth 3: "Natural treatments are more effective than chemotherapy."

Traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation are incredibly hard on the body, so it makes sense that someone would want to choose almost any other way of treating the disease. Many people seem to have a story about their aunt who beat cancer with nothing more than vitamins, exercise, and a "can-do" attitude, but these anecdotal accounts can be dangerous.

Cancer can sometimes shrink or disappear completely spontaneously for reasons that doctors don't fully understand yet, which can lead some people to be misled. Just because someone happened to be doing that natural treatment and went into remission doesn't mean that's what caused the disease to go away. 

When it comes to treating cancer, timing is everything. Opting for alternative treatments in the hopes of going into spontaneous remission instead of doing the treatment recommended by the doctor can waste precious time and can make it harder to treat.

Certain aspects of alternative treatments, like focusing on proper nutrition, are a great way to supplement chemo, but it's important for each patient to discuss all options with their doctor so they can fully understand all of the risks and benefits.

Myth 4: "Cancer rates are increasing dramatically because of our modern lifestyles."

Well, this one is sort of true, but not for the reasons we may think. 

Cancer isn't a recent phenomenon by any means: there is fossil evidence of cancer in bones 1.7 million years old. We do know that modern factors such as pollution, smoking, and certain building materials can lead to cancer, that isn't entirely the reason that cancer is a much bigger health problem than it was for previous generations.

Scientists have made enormous gains in understanding what cancer is and how to treat it in the last 100 years. Prior to that, it's possible that people were dying from cancer without knowing what was actually afflicting them and they were also much more likely to die of something else.

Before people knew what germs were or had any tools to treat them, infectious disease was a much bigger problem. Thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, and improved sanitation, diseases like measles, polio, and the flu aren't the big killers they once were.

While a larger percentage of the population might be getting cancer now, it's because they're living long enough to get it. Thankfully, the same modern medicine that brought us to this point is also working to increase survival from cancer as well.

The fight against cancer is not hopeless and we can all help.

Many doctors and scientists have dedicated their lives to understanding how cancer occurs and how it thrives so they can develop new tools to fight back against it. Thanks to these efforts, treatments are getting more effective and improving the odds of survival. 

Anyone can help in the fight against cancer by making sure that these researchers have the resources they need by calling their representatives in Congress and making sure they support funding increases. There are also many wonderful charities that are trying to reduce the burden on patients and their families by offering support and services. 

Here are just a few trusted, top-ranked charities worthy of a donation that could help change a cancer patient's life:

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation

Cancer Research Institute

National Breast Cancer Foundation

National Pediatric Cancer Foundation

Check back with A Plus every Monday for a new topic of Reality Check!

Cover image: Shutterstock


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