When it comes to cancer, there are many myths that get passed around by well-meaning friends and family members. Those myths can end up causing more stress for patients than they were already experiencing.
Because understanding your diagnosis is an essential part of moving forward with your treatment plan, here are 12 myths about cancer, debunked.
Getting a biopsy makes cancer spread
“There’s absolutely no evidence that doing a biopsy or removing the cancer will make it spread,” said Dr. Issam Alawin, a medical oncologist with the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
When a tumor needs to be removed or tested, the process will not cause the cancer to grow. However, having it removed or tested is an important part of the treatment process.
Eating sugar causes cancer to grow
Eating a cookie or a piece of cake will not exacerbate your cancer.
“Although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
Having cancer doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the little treats you enjoy.
You won’t need surgery if the tumor is solid
“Surgery is always needed, if possible, with these solid tumors,” Alawin said.
Even if other forms of treatment are used to shrink solid tumors or lower the chances of the cancer returning, surgery is used to remove them.
Skin cancer is color blind
Those with fair skin have a greater risk of developing skin cancer than those who don’t. Additionally, those with blond or red hair, green or blue eyes, or easily-burnt or freckled skin are at a higher risk as well, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Chemotherapy always has bad side effects
While awful side effects were common when chemotherapy was first introduced, medical advancement in recent decades has helped to lower the risk of harmful effects.
“We have a lot of good things that we do to minimize or even eliminate a lot of these side effects,” Alawin said.
A lump in your breast is always breast cancer
Finding a lump in your breast does not mean that you have breast cancer, but it should be checked by a doctor.
“Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer," according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. "But if you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored."
Chemotherapy is painful
Some patients fear their chemotherapy treatments will hurt them, but Alawin has some reassurance.
“Is chemotherapy painful? The answer is no,” Alawin said.
Although there can be side-effects from chemotherapy – the actual infusion process or oral form of chemotherapy is not necessarily painful.
Pregnant women can’t get cancer treatment
“Pregnant women who have symptoms or concerns about cancer should see their doctor right away, because getting early medical care can mean better outcomes for both mother and baby,” according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Women who are diagnosed with cancer while pregnant will still have options available to them.
Hair will never grow back after chemotherapy
While the image of a chemotherapy patient commonly involves someone with no hair, that isn't often a long-lasting state.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time it grows back whenever we finish or complete the course of chemotherapy," Dr. Alawin said. "Rarely, it can be permanent, but that is the exception and the unusual thing.”
Cancer will always come back
“For the most part, in early stages — stage 1 and stage 2 — the chances of the cancer coming back is less likely.
Even in later stages, there is hope that it won’t return. Dr. Alawin said.
A cancer diagnosis will always lead to death
“According to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, since 1965, the overall 5-Year Relative Survival by Year of Diagnosis for both males and females has increased each year. In fact, the latest data collected from 2008-2014 shows that the 5-Year Survival Rate is the highest it’s been since the start of the study in 1975.”
Oncologists don’t want patients trying unusual treatments
While some patients fear approaching their doctor with a natural treatment plan, that fear is unnecessary.
“Most of the time oncologists and cancer physicians do not feel bad if the patient wants to try a complimentary or unusual approach to treat cancer,” Dr. Alawin said.
As long as it won’t interfere with the chemotherapy or standard of cancer treatments, most oncologists don’t mind if a patient wants to try another type of care, such as herbs.
If you have questions about your cancer diagnosis or treatment, ask an expert oncologist, who can clear up misconceptions and help determine the right plan for you.
This is the third article in a six-part series focusing on important topics related to cancer care. It is presented by Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa. For more information, please visit cancercenter.com/Tulsa or call 918-286-5000.