If you’ve ever worried about cancer and have performed a quick Google search to put your fears to rest, you’ll probably have come across a variety of information about what may or may not increase your risk.
While having a wealth of health knowledge on hand from Dr Google means we’re more clued up than ever, how do you know the advice you’re accessing is from a trusted or verified source?
This week, a leading cancer charity announced it would attempt to tackle the growing issue of ‘fake’ health news online, by hiring a digital nurse specialist to answer questions from people affected by cancer.
Macmillan Cancer Support created the role after finding that two-fifths of people with cancer looked up information about their diagnosis on the internet, amid growing concerns that websites are offering bogus cures and information.
The charity found websites claiming household items like baking soda can cure breast cancer, and that chemotherapy, a category of cancer treatment, kills more people than the disease itself. With so much conflicting information out there, it can be difficult to know what’s true or false, and which so-called cancer ‘facts’ are simply misunderstandings.
To help, we’ve dispelled five of the most common cancer myths people search for online:
1. Finding a lump in your breast means you have cancer
The tendency is to immediately panic if you find changes to your breast area, but the truth is, only a small percentage of lumps turn out to be cancerous. There are a number of common benign breast conditions (like cysts) that can also cause lumps. However, if you do notice a change to your breast area, you should never ignore it; it’s always wise to let your GP assess any changes right away.
2. Men do not get breast cancer
Breast cancer in men is rare, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that each year it is estimated that approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. While this percentage is small, there is still a risk. The cancer charity encourages both men and women to make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and to check themselves periodically by performing a self-examination.
3. Cancer is contagious
Can you catch cancer from a friend or loved one who has recently been diagnosed? The answer is: no. Cancer is not a contagious disease passed from person to person. The only situation in which cancer can be transmitted from one person to another is in the case of organ or tissue transplantation. In some cases, cancers may be caused by certain viruses and bacteria, such as HPV for example. While a virus or bacterium can spread from person to person through sexual intercourse, it’s a myth that the cancers they sometimes cause can be passed on.
4. A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread
Mammography is the process of using low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast for diagnosis and screening. Some websites claim exposure to radiation from mammograms can cause cancer to spread, however, according to The National Cancer Institute, the benefits of mammography “nearly always outweigh” the potential harm from the radiation exposure. Modern machines use low radiation doses to get breast x-rays that are high in image quality, but The National Cancer Institute believes the risk of harm from this radiation exposure does not post a significant threat to your health.
5. There is nothing you can do to lower your risk of cancer
You’ve probably heard conflicting reports about what actually causes cancer; every day it seems there’s a new food or product we should avoid for fear it might increase our risk. While our knowledge on cancer prevention is still evolving, it’s well-accepted that there are simple things you can do to make a big difference to your health. If you’re worried about cancer prevention, The Mayo Clinic advises making simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy and balanced diet and regularly exercising.